I was recently asked to make a decision. My boyfriend and I were clawing our way back up to a place of peace in our relationship, after a tumultuous week. We were relaxing a bit in the backyard, feeling better, and he asked if I’d like to make any changes in our dynamic. “What do you mean?” I asked him. “Well, this is the new, improved us, so is there anything you’d like to change, or do differently from now on?” “Um, well, I don’t know…why don’t you tell me what ideas you have first?”
I am notorious for not making decisions. I’ve always been this way, as long as I can remember. I was sent away with a “no, I’d like to hear from you first” assignment, which instantly put a dark cloud over my head. I hate being forced to decide. I’d much rather just let someone else dictate what I watch, where I eat, how I react, how I feel. It’s so much easier.
Recently my therapist asked me if I could do anything, what would it be? We were talking about a possible career change. He sent me away with homework, too. “Don’t be afraid to dream big. Come up with a fantasy – any fantasy you want, no matter how out of reach it seems. It’s okay to dream,” he told me. “You might surprise yourself.”
That’s the problem – I don’t dream big. I don’t fantasize about the future. I’m very practical in my future-planning: tomorrow is a school day, pack lunches. Christmas is in a couple months, start thinking about gifts. Etcetera. But tell me to dream big, to envision something grand and outlandish – no way, not me. Why bother? It’s probably not going to happen anyway, why set myself up for disappointment? I’ve always settled for contentment with the Now. The ‘Now’ being whatever situation I’ve been put in by someone else.
This trait goes goes back so far that it paralyzes me when I realize I still have to deal with issues this old. Where does it stem from? That’s easy.
Sometimes when I went into the room my mother shared with my step dad to put their laundry away, he was there, and he said Lay Down. There was no arguing with him. So I would lay down. He would lay down too, on top of me, and even though it was a water bed which bought me extra time, I held out as long as I could before telling him I couldn’t breathe. Because I didn’t want to have to ask for his help with my breathing. I didn’t want to say anything. I knew that what I wanted wouldn’t make a difference, and that was more pain than I was willing to put myself through in one afternoon of chores. I was being told to do something, and I did it. I was well-trained to obey. I was being molded to believe that I was not capable of making decisions for myself. There was no point in asking for something different.
So, I knew where this knee-jerk instinct to duck down and let someone else tell me what to do came from. And I knew I had to find a way to change it. But I didn’t believe that I could.
I carried that belief with me in one form or another until the day my boyfriend asks me “what do you want?” and I draw a blank. He says “you’re not used to being able to make decisions, are you?” When I say no, I’m not, he says: “you can, you know. You’re a strong woman.”
This makes me spin a little. I want to cover my ears, shake my head violently and say “No. No!” Instead, I tell him I’ll think about it. And I do. I think about it in the way a 5th grader thinks about algebra – biting my lower lip, pencil eraser shoved up into my right cheekbone, given a task that I’m not quite ready for and frankly am quite scared to try. But hell if I’m going to give up before I learn.