The Third Choice
I am from a family of 11 kids. Seven boys and four girls. I am second eldest, eldest girl. In big families, position determines your potential authority.
My one older brother was problematic for me. He would stand in the doorway to the kitchen waiting for me to walk past him. When I did, he would punch me in the arm.
I would run screaming to my mother that he hit me for no reason. My mother would say: “If you don’t want to get hit, get out of his way.”
What is wrong with this picture? Anyone could see he was wrong. I was the innocent victim and he should have been stopped.
The notion that I shouldn’t have to get out of a bully’s way, set up an early belief that gave me endless justification for standing in front of loaded cannons in the name of fairness. Far be it from me to slink away from abusive, mean-spirited, ill-tempered people or situations.
I would force myself to stand up and fight, taking a certain kind of pride in the fact that I simply refused to back down.
After yet another emotionally costly battle in the corporate world, though I successfully held my own, the thought occurred to me that it would be wiser to pick my battles more carefully.
One day, out of the blue, came my mother’s words once again. “If you don’t want to get hit, get out of the way.” As I stopped and looked at my life at that time, I realized that it was hard because I was enmeshed in taxing situations with tough-minded people who were trying their best to get me to submit to their controlling demands.
I am sharing this story today because I want to ask you to use it as a frame of reference for new insights.
Are you in the habit of having to fight for what you want? Is your life more difficult because, on some unconscious level, you expect it to be? Do you have a hard time letting go of upsets? Do you struggle with confusion on whether to move on, even though the price of staying has become too high?
If you habitually fight, what would happen if you gave yourself permission to flee, to walk away, to get out? Would it threaten your image of yourself as strong and self-assured? Are you afraid you would appear weak? It is important to explore all of our options to make sure we haven’t locked ourselves into rigid ways of behaving, out of worn-out habits formed from a harsher time.
I remember one particular time when I was in an on-going battle with an executive that was heading up the men’s leadership training division. I was executive director of the women’s division and therefore had the same authority and rank in the company as he did. He insisted on overstepping into my area. I felt like a lion-tamer with an invisible chair and was just a step away from shouting: “Back! Back!” whenever he came anywhere near me.
A good friend knew how frustrated I was in having to deal with this guy. One day Stu stopped in my office right after I had just finished another confrontation with Gary. He sat on the edge of my desk and listened to me fume. Then he quietly said: “You know, Susan, just because he keeps pushing you to choose between vanilla and chocolate, there is nothing that is stopping you from choosing strawberry.”
Sometimes it is helpful to remember that you can fight, you can flee and there is also a third choice. Decide not to play according to the rules that are being offered if the options are too small. When it seems that your only choice is to be submissive or aggressive, remember there is a third choice.
Choose assertive, which is the ability to state your needs clearly, to be willing to hear the needs of others and to continuously communicate until there is a resolve that serves all parties. If that becomes impossible, then use your discernment, simply stated as “I pass.”
It may be time to set your own course, take responsibility and authority for the quality of your life and only play with those people who treat you with the fairness and respect you deserve.
Susan teaches mentoring seminars on intuition locally. Her book, “Beyond Intellect: Journey into The Wisdom of Your Intuitive Mind,” is available at Laguna Beach Books. More info at beyondintellect.com.