“No, but because I just…”
“Yes, because I thought…”
“I didn’t know, I was trying to…”
What do all of these phrases have in common? All of these sentences are not giving a definitive answer, begin an explanation, and are the beginning of the unraveling of your confidence. They are statements we often use when trying to explain ourselves. Have you ever said something similar?
Why is explaining yourself such a bad thing? Typically, it is because we lack confidence in our answers or actions, and feel like we have to explain why we behaved the way we did, or why we chose or said something. We have to validate to an outside party why what we did was the right (or wrong) thing, instead of just saying a yes or no. We are so afraid of being judged by what we did or said, we often explain ourselves—unrequested, I might add—to another person or group to ensure that they know why we are right. Explain why we are smart. Explain why we hurt someone’s feelings. Explain why I made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom. Oh, oops, that’s just me?
I notice myself explaining even in the most simplest of situations. “Would you like to make a donation of $1 to blah-blah charity?” “No,” I say, then ramble on about how this is actually my third time at the grocery store this week and assuredly I have already donated more than $1 earlier this week. What I should say is a simple “No” and leave it at that. I’m sure the cashier actually doesn’t care if I donate or not, or make judgements about the customers that don’t donate when they probably could afford it. Or maybe they do. Either way, it’s not my problem. Right or wrong, my choice is my choice.
I’ll give you another example, a tougher one. Have you ever RSVPed “no” to a wedding? Super awkward. One year, we elected not to go to an out of town—out of state, actually—wedding. The reason shouldn’t matter, but I’ll explain it to you anyway and completely contradict the point I’m trying to make. Like many 20-somethings, we went to a lot of weddings. A LOT. While great fun, they are usually greatly expensive. Especially when the weddings were rarely held near us. When another invite came in through the mail, we decided that financially, and just exhausted-ly, that we couldn’t do it. We declined. But we sent a gift!
I felt even worse when that thank you note for the gift came in, and the friend had written “Wish you could have been there! We missed you!”. While I doubt they actually noticed our absence on the most stressful/blissful day of their lives, I internally recoiled at the words. I felt so bad. I wanted to call and explain myself, lest their good feelings towards us remain permanently scarred! But I didn’t. We had made our choice, and I’m sure the friend was just being kind in his note.
If I actually stop and think about why I explain myself so much, it is because I feel worried about being judged and criticized. Surely if they understand my thinking, they will agree with me. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what someone else thinks of my decision. Lest I sound like your mom, it is “Because I said so, that’s why!” You definitely don’t have to be so blunt, but next time you give a “yes” or “no,” listen to yourself say what comes next. Is it an explanation? How do you feel? Insecure? Uncomfortable? These kinds of situations may happen most while we are at work or talking to family or friends. Any strife in these relationships cause even more self-doubt and anxiety, prompting even further self-explanation.
This year we elected not to travel for Christmas, and celebrate our baby’s first Christmas at home. Instead of just saying “No” when asked if we were traveling, I found myself explaining (again) why I wasn’t coming, citing the most rational of reasons (cost, crying baby, stress, crying baby, lack of crib/car seat/stroller, crying baby…). It turned out that it didn’t matter what I said, my family would still be disappointed I wasn’t there. And that’s okay! I was disappointed I wouldn’t see them, too, but our choice was our choice. End of story. Period. Fin. And, gulp, they would just have to deal with it.
At the end of the day, we have to live with our decisions and as long as we can do that, the responses of others really don’t matter. If you’re like me, you really really hate causing hurt feelings or conflict, so you bend over backwards to avoid it. It turns out that when I do this, I end up being the one with the hurt feelings or anxiety. So pointless.
You are strong, smart, and capable. You make the right choices. Own your actions. If you always do and say what is right and what you believe, you won’t have to explain yourself. Your words, or lack of them, will speak for themselves.