Ballard: Getting over fear of offering opinions

February 23, 2014 

Opinions! There is no doubt that everyone has one. It didn’t take me long to realize where two or more are gathered, there are different opinions about something. The older I become, the more evidence I see of this all around me.

Some people have absolutely no problem expressing their opinions. As for me, I usually keep mine to myself -- especially when I feel that saying it will cause conflict or hurt others.

I’m a people pleaser; I’ve always been one. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s just a part of me. It’s how I’ve been for as long as I can remember. To be honest, it’s a trait I inherited from my daddy along with my predisposition for kidney stones and blood clots. Daddy wanted to keep peace at all costs. Therefore, much of the time he kept his opinions to himself.

It’s an easy way out. No waves are made. No feelings are hurt. You learn how to ride the middle of the fence -- never jumping off on one side or the other -- while stifling how you really feel.

After a while, it becomes second nature. After a while, by refusing to take a stand on an issue, you lose a part of who you are. You’re so scared of what people will think of your opinion that it’s just easier to offer none.

I have certainly found this out on social media. Two cases come to mind immediately. They involved Honey Boo Boo and Paula Deen. In both cases, I decided that I really was entitled to my opinion -- just like my mother always told me growing up. So, I expressed my true feelings and quickly realized why I didn’t do it often. I was attacked and judged and ended up in the swirl of a controversy that left me feeling upset and wishing I had never said a word.

I talked with my wife about it. She has always been one who, without fear, offered her opinion -- as did my mother. They’re two powerful women in my life whom I always think of as brave because of their ability to speak their minds.

Debra asked me why I was so concerned about what others thought. I told her I had spent more than 50 years trying to find the answer to that question myself. So, I once again began to analyze why.

Thinking back on the times I shared my opinions, more times than not, it didn’t end well. Friendships were broken, hurtful words were hurled and I was left feeling like I had done something wrong. Even though I’ve tried never to offer my opinion in a malicious way, sometimes it doesn’t matter how you say it. Just the fact that your way of thinking is different than others sparks a debate that can end badly and change things.

“Shake it off,” Debra always says to me. “If that’s how you genuinely feel, then express your feelings using the right words and tone. Then let whatever happens be like water rolling off a duck’s back.”

That always sounds so easy in principle but, when you are a natural-born people pleaser, nothing rolls off of anything. People pleasers take it all personally and hold onto it for many years.

I’m not talking about life and death issues here. I’m not even talking about politics or religious issues. Many times, the issues that arise are everyday situations that should be worked out without feelings coming into play. Sadly, that is rarely the case. At this moment, I’m involved in a situation that surrounds several of my friends. I definitely know exactly how I feel about the situation but, every time I’m asked about it, I stay on that fence of indecision.

I know how many of my friends feel, and I also know people will get hurt if I speak out. So, not being brave, I talk about my feelings individually with some of the people involved and clam up when directly asked by others. Of all the issues I don’t like about myself, this has to be high on the list.

Recently, I’ve been trying to work on the people pleaser who lives deep within me. I know that to be the best I can be I have to kick out that part of me or at least suppress it. But, when it’s so ingrained in who you are, it’s very hard to find middle ground. However, I’m really trying. It’s part of being a work in progress.

I write these columns every week because by writing my thoughts down, I’m able to help myself and hopefully others. I personally know many people pleasers and I realize there are a lot more of you out there. What I’m saying to myself and to you is that our opinions do matter and we shouldn’t be scared to express them. I always go back to the quote by Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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