My default setting is to be agreeable.
I’m really good at nodding my head. My people-pleasing skills are exceptional. My ability to perceive what other people want and try to be accommodating is unparalleled.
It may look humble and kind to the outside observer. It looks like I’m being a loving and “good” daughter/sister/friend/student/employee. But peel back the layers of this “nice girl” persona, and you’ll see a highly functioning and insidious defense mechanism. An attempt to protect myself from ever being misunderstood, or met with any hint of disapproval or disappointment. A refusal to show my full self to others as an attempt to control their perceptions of me.
If I disagree or have some unpleasant reaction to someone, I’ll do my best to keep it a private matter. Internal stewing and nasty thoughts written out in my journal. But externally, I keep nodding and smiling. I stay silent and small. The thought of saying “I disagree with you” terrifies me. So I just avoid any hint of conflict.
This attempt to be agreeable all the time, this crusade to never disappoint anyone ever? It’s exhausting. I know from experience and research that this leads to exhaustion, isolation, and depression. So I am doing everything I know (talking about it, speaking out the shame, taking small steps of bravery) to unlearn this default setting of people-pleasing.
I write about why we should pursue the things that make us feel most alive. I want and need to be clear that this is not only an external affair. This isn’t just about lifestyle choices and how we spend our time. Being wholehearted and vibrantly alive begins with being bravely honest with all of the parts of you. Not just the presentable, easily likable parts.
My ambition in this blog isn’t for it to be a collection of whimsical thoughts about how to be more free-spirited. This is an urgent cry to embrace wholeness. Most of that process is uncomfortable and hard and messy. But oh, dear reader, it is necessary. And it is Good.
I used to think that it wasn’t okay to have negative feelings. Anger, sadness, or disgust were emotions to be snuffed out and stuffed down as quickly and quietly as possible. I didn’t think it was possible to be loving and disagree with someone at the same time. That empathy and the word “no” were mutually exclusive.
This week was hard for me. I had to reckon with my patterns of agreeableness coming to a halt. My patterns of privileged complacency and fear-based silence were exposed. I felt the effects of speaking up about my sadness over the election and having people that I love and care about disagree with me. My normal mode of agreeableness crumbled as I felt angry and misunderstood. I didn’t like it one bit.
But rather than my previous attempts to push past those negative feelings, I tried to be hospitable towards that grief and frustration. Rather than jumping to the “right answer” conclusion, I stepped into the uncomfortable space of wrestling with the tension for just a bit.
It was exhausting.
I made a lot of mistakes.
But it felt like a step in the right direction.
See, my old way of being? The needing to be pleasant all the time version of Allie? She thought she was being a peacemaker, but she was actually just being a peace-keeper.
Keeping the peace means making sure that no one is rocking the boat. It means running around trying to manage everyone’s emotional state and making sure that we’re all ok all the time.
But that’s actually not my job.
What a relief—that it’s not my responsibility to keep everyone happy all the time, or to maintain an environment where no one ever feels uncomfortable or is disappointed in any way. Because I’ve been trying to shoulder that responsibility, and it turns out that I’m not that good at controlling circumstances or other people’s responses to life.
To be a peacemaker is to believe that people are doing the best they can. To choose to trust that people act the way they do and believe what they do for a reason. And to lead with empathy and curiosity in interacting with people.
And it also means being willing to disagree with them. To be willing to ask uncomfortable questions and really listen to their answers. It means risking discord as you share your convictions. It means engaging in relationship with people that are different, with intention and humility and honesty.
It means actually loving people. Which isn’t synonymous with making sure that other people are comfortable all the time.
This week was a reminder that the world doesn’t need an Agreeable Allie. It does need a Wholehearted Allie. My anger, my opposition, and my words of grief need to have a place at the table, alongside understanding and empathy and words of comfort.
I’m not saying we should all start shaking our fists and raging all over the place. Let’s not throw any babies out with any bathwater here.
But I am inviting you to question your default setting.
If your impulse is to avoid conflict at all costs, maybe you need to lean into uncomfortable conversations with people.
If you’re quick to spout off your opinions or blast your social media feed with inflammatory articles, I invite you to listen. To be willing to be wrong.