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What Is The Right Path Of Action?

Question:

I have been taking singing lessons for several years and have a very close relationship with my teacher. The problem is, she is trying to turn me into a diva, planning concerts for us etc. and I just did not say no. I love singing and her recognition of my talent is very flattering to me, but I get very anxious when performing. I do not want to disappoint her or let her down. I also feel, that maybe I should be wanting this and feel guilty for the fact that I have no ambition. The concert is planned for June, but nothing is etched in stone yet. I feel pressured to perform and spend quite a bit of money on the preparations. I would like to bail out and tell her how I really feel. On the other hand, I want to keep her as a friend and I don’t want to be considered a looser. A small part of me is mad as well. After all, the concert is her idea and why should I invest so much for something that is pleasing to her, but not me. My local friend and family are no big help. They cannot understand, why someone with my talent would not want to be a start. It seems to be the story of my life to fufill everybody else’s ambitions because I have none, but I have the talent. Could you please clarify this whole thing? I am confused.

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Answer:

You aren’t confused so much as you are torn between competing desires.  On the one hand, you have a strong desire to please the people around you, in particular the people who you are in close relationships with such as your music teacher and family members.  There would not be any conflict except that these valued people are pushing you to engage in an activity that you don’t want to engage in.  It is not really fair for you to stay that you have no ambition.  Actually, you can be said to have the ambition to not make a big deal out of your singing talent or to call attention to yourself.  This is not a conventional sort of ambition, so that is probably why you are not recognizing it as such, but really, an ambition is anything you want for yourself, and you want to not have a fuss made over you.  The fear here is that, if you assert your actual ambition (which will conflict with the ambitions of the others around you) that these people you value so much will reject you in some fashion, possibly even to the extent that valued relationships might break.  That would be a very painful outcome for someone who draws a lot of their own self-esteem from the reflected esteem shown to them by others.  It is precisely becuase you care very much what these people think of you and your desire for no fuss that you are afraid. 

This is about the time in my answer where I introduce the concept of assertiveness training, which I will do quickly, as it is fitting, and could help you.  Before I do that, however, I want to point out that it will likely be difficult for you to assert yourself so long as you are dependent on the good will of others for your own good will towards yourself.  There is no easy answer for being more "self-reliant" in this manner and not needing to care about what other people so much.  Some people are just thicker-skinned about it their whole lives, while others are thinner skined and more easily socially bruised.  But everyone, no matter how thin skinned, can learn to feel better about themselves on their own merits.  This occurs through the process of living and mastering little challenges every day; if things don’t go tragic on you, over time you feel more confident in your ability to make your way with or without the good will of others (although good will always makes you feel better than a lack of good will). 

So – assertiveness.  Basically, assertiveness is about maintaining personal boundaries.  Think of a personal boundary as a fence drawn around you that allows you to accept certain people and ideas into your life and keep other people and ideas outside and away from yourself.  When your boundaries are functioning properly, you are able to choose who and what gets through.  There are problems that occur with boundary maintainance, however.  Some aggressive people refuse to recognize that the boundaries are there and just barge right through without noticing them and impose themselves and their unwanted ideas.  Some passive people do not feel comfortable locking their boundary’s gate even when the person or idea on the other side is un-desired.  As in your situation, sometimes the reasons for acting passively are complex.  You may want to let the person in, but keep the idea out, and as you know, this is a complex thing to accomplish.  Anyway, right now you are letting the person in and the unwanted idea, and feeling quite intruded upon, so you don’t have the balance right and too much of your personal space has been invaded.  The idea of assertiveness is that you can find a way to enforce your boundary when you need to enforce it, but also respect the people who are on the other side of that boundary.  So, an assertive response to your present situation might involve you deciding to tell your music teacher that though you very very much value her as a friend and teacher, you are not really interested in pursuing a recital; that you have not said anything for fear of hurting her feelings or even losing her as a friend, but that this is nevertheless how you have felt for a long time; that you hope she will understand and not reject you.  Such a message communicates what needs to be said but does so in a very respectful way.  It is not aggressive, because aggressiveness is usually disrespectful. 

It is not at all clear that your teacher and familiy have been aggressive towards you, by the way.  It may not be that they have so much disregarded your boundaries, as they simply don’t know about them becuase you have never made them clear.  It is every person’s responsibility to make efforts to describe and enforce their own boundaries.  It is also every person’s responsibilitity to make an effort to try to understand, appreciate and respect others’ boundaries, although this is not always an easy task to get right.  At any rate, I doubt these people are trying to harm you; they just likely do not comprehend that you do not want the same things they do.  So – they cannot read your mind; you must find a way to tell them what you want. 

We’ve written some assertiveness self-help material into our large ebook "Psychological Self-Tools " which you can read here , for what it is worth.  The understanding of what to do is the easy part.  The hard part is actually doing it.  Good luck. 

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