Why are we so worried about being called bitches?

I remember one of my biggest fears as a people pleaser was the worry that I would be called ‘rude’ or ‘bitchy’. Any one of us women who knows how to be a people pleaser knows that being called either of those words would be a catastrophe.

But WHY?

To be honest, I never even knew that this WAS a fear of mine. It just seemed that in moments when I really needed to stand up for myself and be direct with someone, I always managed to find a way to:

  1. Avoid it
  2. Justify THEIR behavior (i.e. — I deserved it somehow)
  3. Sugarcoat it so that it wouldn’t hurt their feelings

Case in point:

I used to have a group of popular friends I’d sit with at the lunch table every day in high school.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, one of the guys at our table started making fun of me and saying mean things to me constantly. Like, “When are you going to kill yourself?”

Because we had a ‘history’, because I had spread a rumor about him once, and because I didn’t want to look bad in front of our friends, you know how I responded?

I LAUGHED.

I played it off like I was so cool. That it was no big deal.

Except every day when I showed up to that lunch table he got meaner and more serious. And the worst part? None of my friends stood up for me. They just watched. Giggled. Playfully said ‘stop’, but didn’t actually mean it.

And I put myself through that for the entire year

Always dreading lunch. Always planning what I was going to do. Telling myself things like: “Well, no one’s going to mess with me if I’m confident”, but then I’d crumble in real-time.

Never once thinking I had the option to get up and simply LEAVE the table. Never once thinking that I could stand up for myself. Never once thinking that the ACT of me continuing to sit at the table enabled him and everyone else who sat there and watched to treat me badly.

Why didn’t I think of those things? There are many reasons.

One of them being I simply was not taught how to stand up for myself, and that I even had a right to. I operated under the idea to accept what was in front of me and not question it. So if I was being treated a certain way it was MY fault, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It is even more fascinating to see how I repeated this pattern in other friendships and relationships.

All for the sake of looking ‘cool’. Being rude or bitchy, like I said, would have been a catastrophe.

But guess what happens when you don’t risk that?

Your confidence gets chipped at every day, little by little. It is a long, tortuous, exhausting process where you are constantly walking on eggshells, making sure not to ruffle any feathers. You start to feel heavy, like there’s a weight on your shoulder, and you have no idea how you’re ever going to get it off.

And especially when you grow up, start working, and working with PEOPLE–these sneaky patterns follow you around like lone puppy dogs wherever you go.

Which is why I am never surprised when I see women (or anyone else for that matter) going out of their way to be ‘nice’ (aka: TOO nice and ‘please love me’ nice) to people who treat them badly or don’t respect them.

Which makes the act of being likable YET assertive a very tricky road to navigate

This is why advice on this topic–even like I kind I wrote for Fast Company–is only the tip of the iceberg. Because if the deeper fear is: “What if they think I’m a bitch?” which is code for: “What if I lose their approval?” (which means our self-confidence and self-worth suffers) then my article or anyone else’s will never help. Interrupting a meeting? I bet just thinking about the possibility doing that is scary.

So what do we do?

You have to take the risk

When an amazing woman (my former therapist) came into my life and completely changed it, there was no “Okay, now say this and do that to be more assertive today.” That won’t work right at the beginning. We need baby steps, as unsexy as that sounds.

Instead, I had to go through the fire and RISK being called a bitch. I had to RISK being rude. I had to RISK the social awkwardness that comes with being ‘real’ with people and telling them the truth. It’s a practice. It’s a practice.

Here’s an example of what I did (and how you can even apply this on a small scale, today):

I remember one night–as I was first starting to get comfortable with this idea–I got a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know. Asked him who he was. Wouldn’t tell me. It was strange. But he  kept messaging me.

In the past, my people pleasing self would have found a way to get along with this person EVEN THOUGH their messaging me felt like an invasion. They were stealing my time! My former self wouldn’t have cared. “Please give me love” was all she wanted.

But this time, with this new awareness I had, I stopped. I looked at that message, and asked myself how I really felt. “I want this guy to leave me the fuck alone.” That was the truth.

So I wrote back: “Please leave me alone”

He kept messaging.

“Leave me alone and stop messaging me.”

His final response:

“Bitch.”

AH! My worst fear had come true. There it was, in FB’s blue little highlighted chat bubble: BITCH.

But the world did not come crashing down. Nor did everyone suddenly not like me.

In fact, I felt GREAT. It was like a part of me was cheering me on: “Go, Fel! You’re finally standing up for us and you mean it this time!”

Suddenly being a ‘bitch’ felt like a badge of honor. “Damn straight” I thought, feeling proud of myself.

But how to practice this on a larger scale? Like…with PEOPLE in REAL LIFE?

This was my ‘next level’ of practice.

When I was living in LA, I went out with one of my girlfriends who I met through my fiance. She was fun. I liked her. And we had hung out a few times, just us, and always had a good time.

Then, she invited us out one night to go to a bar and karaoke. For whatever reason, we were late to the bar. Stayed for karaoke instead.

And then, while a group of us are all having fun at the karaoke place, she suddenly turns to me and accused me of “ditching her” at the bar we were late for, and other things that I don’t even remember now.

Guess what I did?

Instead of “Oh, I’m so sorry. I never meant to do that.”

I flipped.

Not in a loud screaming way. But in a real, direct, angry way. I told her that I completely disagreed with her, and that I would never “ditch her”. Why the hell would I do that? She didn’t have a good explanation, other than she loved people to pity her and start drama.

Because she couldn’t talk it out in a mature way, I left. She attempted to talk it out with me via text. And I elegantly cut ties with her because here’s the truth no one tells you: I don’t want friends like that and you are allowed to not be friends with people like that.

And I will tell them, to their face, because my self-respect matters more than playing Candyland with someone’s feelings. I have higher standards for quality of character than what I saw her do. And like my wise old surrogate grandma Maya Angelou says, “When people tell you who they are, BELIEVE THEM.”

AKA — Quit the delusions.

Here’s the deal:

I know that for a lot of you, doing what I did in my story sounds like a complete unrealistic situation right now. Because guess what?

All the fears about being called a bitch and there being social repercussions are TRUE!

This girl was very close with all of our other friends. People knew what happened. And yet, I let myself feel awkward sometimes. I let other people feel it, too. Because other people’s feelings are not your responsibility. And I still was able to hang out with the people I actually liked. They all secretly wished they’d be able to tell her off the way I did, too. Because she pulled that BS with everyone.

You have got to know that you teach people how to treat you–with how you speak, how you communicate with them, and most importantly, your ACTIONS.

My showing up to that lunch table in high school every day despite those verbal attacks basically communicated to everyone that I had no self-respect or self-worth. If I did, I would have stood up for myself and never sat at that table again.  More than that, I would have never been friends with them in the first place.

‘Irresistibility’ and real ‘charisma’ (not the sleazy kind) are directly correlated with knowing someone is overflowing with confidence and isn’t afraid to be who they are–even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Very counterintuitive to advice on Instagram: “Be nice to everyone!”

Now…I want to hear from you:

What’s the hardest about about trying to live up to “being likable, yet assertive?” Why is it important to you?

I love hearing your stories, and can’t wait to hear. Most of all, I hope hearing my own stories help you know that being able to feel comfortable with this is possible.

Fel

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