Why I started speaking up for myself

[Today's soundtrack: John Mayer - Say]

For as long as I can remember, I have always been afraid of stepping on the toes of others. Wanting to be liked, not seen as antagonistic, not wanting to upset anyone. I would conform, I told myself I was “adaptable”. So, naturally people didn’t worry too much about what my opinion was because well, I would go along with anything. I would always agree or not say anything. I just wanted to spare myself rejection and feel like I was a part of something. I can only assume it was because I didn’t have a lot of self confidence and at the end of the day everyone just wants to be loved and accepted.  But how far can that go? I still had opinions and thoughts about the world or how I wanted certain things. I just pushed them aside to cater to others. 

Many of my relationships went this way. Friends, co-workers, my extended family. Maybe it stems from the countless arguments I witnessed between my father and sister where I silently observed and tried to not make things worse because every time my sister said her thoughts it did not always go well. Maybe I never thought I earned the right to an opinion because I had no support and didn’t quite know the right way to put my point across. Eventually I learnt that I am responsible for how people treat me based how I train them to. If I don't respect my own opinion, why should they?

Eventually, at young age fresh out of med school I was told marriage was the only option by my then boyfriend as his family was very religious and didn’t believe in long relationships outside of marriage. I clung to this individual. Someone I looked up to and thought could keep me grounded. I went into this marriage and was loved for agreeing with all of the opinions he and his family had, for a promise of acceptance and stability. I told myself that because I didn't grow up in a stable home I wasn't taught these beliefs and values, so now I could adopt them...now I could be a part of a family and learn. This meant I too, adopted some of his rigid beliefs. Which admittedly included even judging others.

In retrospect I can see now that in doing that, I denied all of my own very important, valuable life lessons and relationships I had collected up until that time. The memories that I had that shaped who I am, were swept under the carpet and even worse painted in the light of “embarrassing” and I was asked to disregard them as times in my life I should not be proud of.

There were times when my tendency to be a free thinker and opinionated peeked through and whenever I questioned things it was met with “that is just what is written and whether you believe in it or not doesn’t change its truth”. My voice really did not make a difference and held no weight in this family so sometimes I just didn’t bother for the sake of preventing an argument. I looked on with envy as my then sister-in-law always spoke her mind without regard of who agreed or not. I told myself how lovely it must be to fearlessly speak your mind when you have the support of your parents to back you up. 

I can admit I am partly to blame. I led him to believe something else because I expected him to acknowledge all of this things I gave up for him to be a part of his life and give a little in return. And this is where I went wrong. I didn't say what I wanted or expected up front. All I did was get angry when he did/didn’t do certain things. I chose to say my part when words were exchanged in anger which of course, amounted to nothing. I started doing things that did not represent who I was, becoming a version of myself I was not proud of simply because my voice was not listened to. Even if I explained myself it wasn’t enough because I always tried to compromise without actually saying where I was compromising.

He didn’t agree with visiting my friends/family? I said- "okay you don’t have to go." He didn’t like my music? "Ok. Let's listen to what you prefer.” "You don’t like this outfit? I’ll change." "Yes I agree my friend’s outfit is too revealing." I agree..I agree..I agree

I expected him to appreciate that I agreed. To me this was compromise. Except all he would have seen is someone who thinks like him. What compromise? Aside from mentioning it in arguments I admit I never really communicated because when things were good I didn’t want to upset them. I expected him to understand that I changed my life for him. But in the end, the conditions to be loved turned out not to be worth it and ate away at me. 

A therapist told me, I expected him to mind read. Did I? I thought I expected some mutual respect. 

There came a point when I realized I disagreed internally with most of their beliefs and not even the religious ones. You see, despite not being brought up in a highly religious environment, I still was brought up with grace, humility, kindness, culture and generosity. Things this righteous family did not seem to exhibit. My inner tenacity ignited. It rose in me so much I could bear it no more and I made the decision to no longer have aspects of myself or those closest to me picked apart and I owed it to myself to become that woman I always needed and spoke up for myself. I knew that my decision would actually benefit us both in the long run. He would eventually see that I was not the best fit for him. And I would not survive spending my life in this for the next few decades.

  

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. 
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. 
- Anaïs Nin

I made it clear that I am worth much more. My taste in music and clothes, my experiences, my family..are not to be picked on. They are what make me, me. I decided that if he can’t accept me for these things then he has no place claiming to accept and love me. After 6 years of knowing me, if you cannot recognize what is important to me then you won’t now. Despite my internal struggles, what and who I valued were never secrets. Religious or not they were very basic human needs. Love, nurturing, support, empathy, kindness and compassion. 

When I broke the news to my family, it was not well received. 

They did not understand why I would want to leave. This future neurosurgeon, who is so religious and has never physically abused me or cheated. 

They didn’t understand the effects of insidious emotional abuse of every bit of myself stripped away. They didn’t see when he walked ahead and left me behind, they didn’t see when he never supported me or when I was spoken down to or my mannerisms mocked or the times I was referred to as "an embarrassment". They didn’t see when I chose to stay in the background, because whats the point? I downplayed my own achievements, to the point where even though we are both doctors, our seniors saw him because “he’s a bright boy” and my family as second nature turned to him for medical advice. I sometimes had to remind them that I was also a doctor. This was all potentiated by my lack of standing up for myself, which I assumed was futile anyway.

At the same time, I have always gravitated to strong women. Women who have been notorious because of their strong opinions. And they have always looked back at me with admiration and mutual respect. Which at that time I never understood. Much older than I am and professionals in their field, yet they have been more loyal and accepting of me than I ever imagined. Maybe they saw something in me at the time which even I had not yet recognized.

I suppose you can say these layers were removed one by one to reveal the person I was meant to be. So with little support in my corner I had not much choice but to finally learnt to speak up for myself. So I did just that and stated my case, over and over and took charge of my own life. I had to speak up when my decision was judged by my peers, when my family felt sorry for him. But it sparked something else in me - courage. 

I trusted my instincts, found a great divorce attorney and did things the way and when I felt comfortable doing them. My courage to end what was hurting me pervaded throughout the rest of my relationships. I also started speaking up to those who I felt disrespected me at work. I said exactly what I wanted clearly and eloquently (most times). I took time and decided which direction I wanted to take my career in and figured out step by step how I would get there and began taking those steps. I realized that if I don't start saying exactly what I wanted, I would end up in the same position. And guess what? The world didn't end. The people who mattered welcomed me back, stayed, supported me, some relationships even were better than before and I even made new ones. Those who didn't, well those relationships withered away. 

That was about 2 years ago. 

When I started gaining confidence in myself and as a result, confidence in my decisions, I eventually stopped making them based on what others might think. I focused on how it impacted my life. It sounds selfish but it really isn’t. Instead I made time for those I loved and things which brought me fulfillment regardless of what others thought. It even became easier to admit when I was wrong, to apologize, to forgive, to ask for help and to even offer welcome advice. 

Since then my family has supported and accepted my decisions. They have learnt to trust me because they see how much I trust and believe in myself. I have been called “fearless”, “brave” and “strong” by the very people who thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life. My personality has been described as “strong” during an exchange of words and I take this as the best compliment.

Before I would have coyly denied it, but not now. I am fearless. 

My 85 year old grandfather Baba, who is a colonel admitted he saw my view and apologized. That blew me away because the amount of love and respect I have for him is unsurpassed and it brought me to tears. He is one of my strongest influences. In fact, just today he reminded me not to depend on anyone else for my happiness and I swiftly replied, "I'm never making that mistake again!" 

I never in a millions years thought I would ever find myself demanding to speak with a program director at Harvard Medical School but I did. And he was lovely. I got some great advice. 

I learnt how important it is to love yourself first and prove your worth to yourself before anyone else. People come and go but you have to live with your decisions and actions for as long as you live so taking risks comes with the package. I wish I had seen this and knew this before. I would have saved myself and others a lot of heartache in the process. But maybe if I did’t put myself in that position I probably never would have gotten to this point. I’m still learning but I have grown so much. I'm still getting to know me, what I like, don't like, maybe there are times when I should speak up more or when I should say less but I don't think we'll ever get it completely right. Still in the end, I regret nothing. 

I’m genuinely proud of who I am, of my life, my achievements, my mistakes and my growth. Now it doesn’t matter what others speak of my life, because I’m in charge of it and I can accept the consequences of my decisions whatever they may be. Take it or leave it.

Trust the process.