Assertiveness and Guilt

Well, it finally happened. I told people to stop messaging me so much, because I was wilting under the pressure of it all. Only, contrary to my expectations, I did not explode. I was actually rather polite about it.

But. BUT. Of course the guilt has set in. Let me explain though.

So I have a neurotic need to reply or respond in some way to every message or call. I am built like that because I equate not replying to abject rudeness, and I cannot logic my way out of it. Thus, since I very much hold myself accountable to my own standards, I cannot ignore anyone. [Although someone tried very hard to change my mind about this stance.] Except if I have already told that person I will not be replying to any communication from them. This has happened in the past.

Keeping in mind that I have this personality quirk, and that I am usually inundated with work – project work or house work – it was a small wonder I was drowning under the stress of replying to the daily messages of some people.

First, I tried backing away from other social networks. I stopped using Facebook, avoided logging into Twitter, and finally gave Whatsapp a miss, unless I needed to communicate with my mom. I let notifications lie unread on the app, turning off notifications entirely. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that they were there, waiting silently for my attention.

Next, I tried hinting people away. “I’m running around quite a bit.” or “I have deadlines for some work.” None of them stuck. From one quarter, I got extreme understanding and told I wasn’t obliged to respond, but the messages would continue unabated. From the second quarter, I got exhortations to stop! working! so! much! woman! Or to TAKE A BREAK! Which, while well-intentioned, is not particularly helpful or useful, and frankly makes me grind my teeth.

That brings us neatly to today. Where I finally realised that I was in a sink or swim situation, and I needed to extricate myself. So I told them very nicely that the daily messaging was causing me stress.

And sat back to watch the understanding reactions, albeit betraying hurt, and tried very hard not to rush to undo the results of me asking them to give me some space. It was horribly easy to do so, and I physically kept myself away from my phone so as not to undo it.

The trouble with me is that when I am assertive to people who are nice for the most part, and my assertiveness causes them varying levels of anguish, I find it very hard to stand my ground. I feel an overwhelming urge to rush in and soothe ruffled feathers and generally fix things so they are happy again – regardless of whether it is healthy for me or not.

Additionally, one of them was there for me during a particularly trying time in my life. And I have been there for him for moral support thereafter. So I felt doubly worse for asking him for my space. And yet, I was slowly going crazy.

In the afternoon, I sat with mom for lunch and I told her all of this. And I asked her whether I did the right thing. She looked at me and said: “Only you would let it go for so long, and then ask whether you were right. You need to sometimes do what is right for you, and tell the others as kindly as possible, but not hold yourself responsible for the consequences.”

And that, put it right into perspective.


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