When you have to say no to someone, do you feel compelled to give them a long explanation of why you are saying no, or do you find yourself defending your right to say no?
How often do you find yourself building a case to convince the people in your life that you’re doing the right thing?
When you make a choice do you want everyone to approve of your decision?
If you’re nodding your head, then this episode is for you. There is an important difference between convincing and providing context when it comes to communicating our boundaries and preferences.
In this video, I’m breaking it all down for you, because the bottom line is:
You don’t have to convince anyone of anything.
(Read that again ?)
I’m also exploring what drives the need to attempt to convince others and how you can step back from this behavior to be more self-directed, and less approval seeking.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Convincing someone and providing context are easily confused, but they are not at all the same thing. If the questions above resonate with you, you might be falling into convincing behavior patterns, a sign of disordered boundaries.
You might not even be aware you are doing this, and that’s ok. I certainly wasn’t aware of my own convincing behaviors. Years ago my husband, Vic, and I went to The Chopra Center for a week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico. During one of our sessions, we were talking with Deepak about being self-determined and what he said changed my life:
“Remember, Terri, you never have to convince anyone of anything.”
I have to say that phrase blew my mind. I suddenly realized in one form or fashion, for decades I had been trying to convince everyone of everything.
I wanted everyone to approve of the choices I was making or the relationship I was in. If they didn’t, I would be pissed. I had been completely unaware of constantly building a case to prove to the world I was doing the right thing (as if a person outside of me could possibly know what was right for me).
It wasn’t only convincing people I had the right to say no to things I didn’t want to do. For years I was essentially an open book for anyone to give me their opinion, and if it was disapproving, I would naturally jump in to defend my position.
The big aha moment here is realizing the huge amount of bandwidth it was taking up being worried and trying to convince others whatever was going on in my life was ok. It was exhausting.
Can you relate? So why do we do this? Seeking approval of those around us is part of being human, but when it’s extreme it can be driven by insecurity and underlying fears of being rejected, judged, and abandoned. We want others to accept us and to accept the decisions we make, but seeking this kind of external validation can make us vulnerable to other people’s negativity. Convincing behavior can also attract others who no matter what you tell them, always have a counterargument just for the sake of arguing.
When you’re constantly seeking others’ approval, it puts them in a position of power to withhold it. I can tell you in two and a half decades as a psychotherapist, I have seen this pattern over and over. It’s confusing for your relationships and creates frustration. It negatively impacts your self-esteem because approval-seeking can make us a target for people who may not be emotionally trustworthy.
Listen: if you are having a big realization right now (like I did with Deepak), try not to be too hard on yourself. So much of the time these are unconscious relational patterns. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be terminal. Raising your awareness is the first step to changing your behaviors for the better.
So let’s get super clear about giving others context instead of convincing.
When you provide context it’s about helping the other person understand you better by sharing additional information. It is not about seeking their approval of your choices, preferences, or desires. The key here is to be discerning around who you provide context to.
I tend to provide context in relationships I deeply value. Not everyone gets to be in the VIP section of your life, right? You get to decide whose opinion you seek and who gets to weigh in. Are there people in your life who tend to be highly critical? Stop asking them what they think about your ideas and your choices! Really consider how much their feedback is about them and not actually about you.
We all project to some degree or another, but if there are critical individuals in your life who are not successful, unhappy, and negative, there is no reason for you to continue to put yourself in their line of fire. It takes time to cultivate discernment, but you can.
When you provide context around a decision or preference for someone, it’s more about giving clarity so the other person doesn’t misunderstand or jump to conclusions. In my marriage, my relationships with my family, and close friendships, I provide context because I want the most important people in my life to understand me, not as a justification for why I’m opting out of something, but to deepen the intimacy of our relationship.
One of the most important aspects of shifting from convincing behavior into sharing context appropriately is to slow down. We need to be able to create more space for mindfulness and awareness to move away from compulsive or automatic behaviors. Take time to understand what’s underneath your approval seeking. Bring it up from the basement of your mind and take a good look. Ultimately, the most important person’s approval has to be your own.
It is normal and natural to want the opinions of the people we love and trust. There is a way to be more specific and direct in the asking, so the feedback you receive is more constructive. Example: you’ve written an article and you’d like to ask your best friend what they think. Instead of just asking, “ What do you think?” and leaving it open-ended, try this instead, “What do you think I can do to improve the article?”
Can you see how a simple shift in language works to generate a more positive response? And once again, you’re only asking the people who are emotionally safe and whose opinion you would value. Getting specific about what information you’re asking for is a great way to begin to set up healthier boundaries and better conversations.
Providing context is sharing information with the people who truly matter to you so you can be more deeply understood and known because you know what? You are so worth knowing.
It’s your beautiful, one-of-a-kind life and you have the right to be self-determined. You have the right to not be open to everyone else’s feedback. You have the right to share something and let people know, “I’m actually not seeking input. I just wanted to tell you because I’m excited about it.” Boom!
I want to know what you think about the difference between convincing and providing context. Have you struggled with this in your life? Leave me a comment here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole, and lemme know!
If it added value, please share it with your world. I hope you have an amazing week raising your awareness and as always take care of you.