If you want to tie yourself in knots over a decision…
…ask yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?”
I’m not advocating doing whatever we feel like, to hell with the consequences.
But I’ve learned (the hard way, with a side order of insomnia and nervous indigestion) that…
“What’s the right thing to do?” isn’t the best route to grounded, responsible decision making.
Well, because it assumes there is such a thing as a clear-cut right way, and as long as we find it, we’ll be golden.
That’s a big assumption to make and one that generates a boatload of self-doubt and unnecessary agonizing over stuff that doesn’t actually matter.
I’ll give you a personal example, one that caused me months of frustration…
…and my husband and friends, too, because I talked about it constantly.
For years, I’d had an intense relationship with someone–let’s call them Dumbledore, because I’ll get to chuckle every time I type it.
Dumbledore wanted daily contact, multiple times per day, and while they were understanding (most of the time) when I’d say I needed time to myself…
…there was still the hovering expectation that, unless I communicated otherwise, we should be talking every day.
It took me years to understand that I was allowed to want less contact–far less contact, even–and this didn’t make me a shitty person, unsupportive, or antisocial.
And the default didn’t have to be, “Unless you tell me otherwise, we’re talking daily.”
That was their rule, not mine, and it was my reality only because I hadn’t set a boundary.
One of the primary reasons it took me so long to make healthy changes in this relationship was that I’d been trying to figure out what the “right” decision was.
I mistakenly believed that because Dumbledore was satisfied with this level of contact, I should be, too.
I mistakenly believed that because other people liked talking to Dumbledore on a daily basis, I should, too.
But because I wasn’t happy with this arrangement, my inner conflict raged unabated.
I felt torn between, “This feels like crap,” and “I don’t want to be an asshole!” and “Everyone else seems cool with it…?”
Here’s the thing:
To Dumbledore, or to those other people, maybe daily contact is a good choice. Who knows?
It’s totally irrelevant to my decision-making process, though, because I’m not them. I’m me.
You can’t figure out what’s best for you by copying what everyone else is doing.
Sometimes their choices might inspire your own, but they can’t replace them.
Only you can decide what works for you…
…and you won’t get there by thinking there’s a universal right way that works for everyone, and you just haven’t figured out what it is yet.
It always surprises me, in hindsight, how many of my decisions were anxiety producing because I wasn’t allowing myself to need what I need.
I’d bitch about how confused and conflicted I was, how “I have no idea what I want to do!”
But I did. I knew exactly what I wanted to do all along. It just felt like the wrong answer because other people wanted something different.
Their right answer wasn’t my right answer.
So instead of asking yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?”
…check in with how you feel in this situation or around this person.
And then, instead of convincing yourself that it’s not okay to feel that way, ask yourself, “Okay, given that I feel this way, what do I need?”
Not, “What is the other person expecting of me?”
Or, “What if they get mad/don’t like me/etc?”
Just get clear on what you need.
Next, what boundary can you set in order to meet this need?
Write it down.
Finally, what would help you feel supported as you set this boundary?
Maybe you don’t want to do it face-to-face, because this person has been highly volatile with you in the past.
That’s good information to have. Instead of blindly following the rule, “You have to have important conversations in person,” (says who?) allow yourself to choose a format that feels safe and manageable.
Or maybe you need to talk to a therapist first.
Excellent. Do some Googling, ask friends for a referral, and make an appointment.
Remember, you’re allowed to need what you need.
And when you’re not chasing some mythical “right” answer, what you need is often feel-it-in-your bones plain as day.
You’ve got this.