Oprah: What is the lesson that’s taken you the longest to learn?
Bell: That there’s nothing to prove…All that’s left to do is enjoy.
There was a situation a number of years ago that was the final straw in a whole haystack of a mess. It was one of those moments when I realized: You do not have to prove one damn thing. Even when people are demanding and belligerent, hurt and angry – you do not owe them an explanation or proof. Your life is your own without excuses, explanations, or apologies.
To start off with, we were sick. There was a bunch of family expectations about how our holiday visitations were supposed to go. You know how some families can be towards their young ones especially during the holidays. There are often demands and navigating that can become a source of strife and pain – every single year. A lot of families do this to one another – the expectations, the resentments building beneath the surface.
Anne Lamott says, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”
Some families expect its members to continually compromise what they need in favor of what the group expects or needs. There is no happy middle ground. There is no mutual compromise – there is the family’s needs, the family’s schedules, the family’s wishes, the family’s plans, the family’s holidays, the family’s vacation time – you are expected to shift your life around the family. And when you don’t show up the way they need or expect… visits and phone conversations can be very uncomfortable.
“There’s a lot of resentment simmering underneath the smiles and so good to see yous and no problem, happy to do thats of this town. So when someone crosses the line, it can get uncomfortable.” (Bill Clegg)
This particular holiday was compounded for our immediate family because we were traveling while sick. We had done what we tried to do as often as was possible – in making plans to participate in the family wonderment. Even at the expense of what worked best for us while traveling away from home for the Christmas season with four very young children. We were going to buck it up and show up even though over the course of a number of years, and a number of caustic interactions we were shying away. We had been burned before. We’d scratched beneath the smiling surfaces – and uncovered the rage, the anger, the real thoughts, the broken places. It was becoming increasingly difficult to show up and shut up. The visitations had become excruciatingly painful to participate in. There was no way of showing up that was every good enough. We continually walked away… not OK.
The truth is that for some relationships you will never be able to meet them the way that they need to be met. Unless they walk away from your time together feeling awesome about the visit – getting the time, and the gifts, the applause, the gratitude, and the information that they desperately need to maintain appearances and fill up their emotional meters – it simply is not going to be good enough. They will not be satisfied.
We were repeatedly being held responsible for their feelings, their wants, their expectations, and their needs. These things that were not our responsibility.
But this time we were too sick to even try and show up and put on our happy faces. There was no way we were going to be able to comb our children’s hair just right, wipe their faces clean, make sure we dressed the part, smiled our smiles, said all the right things, answered all the questions appropriately, and gave what was required of us – just enough information and participation to maintain the image.
“Don’t confuse having information with having a relationship. ” (Jessica K. McGuire)
There was no way we were going to be able to meet them in their expectations… the portrait of the happy family. We were too sick to even attempt to fake it.
So we went home early. We packed up the van and headed south.
Then we proceeded to take everyone to the doctor’s office because like I said, “We were sick.”
It ended up that all of us were in different stages of having, beginning, or getting over the flu; a few of the kids had ear infections, and at least two of them had strep-throat. One of the kids had to be seen by an ENT. We were a Merry Christmas cocktail of germs and illness. It was a hot mess.
But this, like most of our behaviors and choices over the years, was labeled: suspicious, uncooperative, stubborn, lying, indifferent, and needing to be verified.
They needed proof. They were angry. They were hurt. They needed their time with us (understandable), but how they negotiated their expectations was messy, ugly, grabby, needy, demanding, and cruel.
So I posted a picture of all those medicines – on my Facebook page because I’m helpful like that and sometimes people do not hear you or they can’t hear you anymore. They needed proof in the
pudding photo of medicine bottles.
Sometimes we don’t realize when we stopped hearing and considering and listening to those around us. Sometimes we fail to understand how often we have assumed instead of leaning into truth by asking the right questions and listening to the whole of someone’s answer. And sometimes it never dawns on us until it is too late that we haven’t been listening all along the way.
Someone’s silence doesn’t mean they are not willing – it usually means they have figured out a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what they have to say. They’ve learned that someone is unable to hear them. There is a lot to be said for being able.
What I realized in the midst of this, the situations that we had walked through leading up to this straw, and the demands that would follow –
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PROVE ONE DAMN THING.
A Christian Good Girl In Recovery
I’ve been trying to “PROVE” elements of my life and myself for a very long time. As my faith shifted I uncovered a whole bunch of different pieces of myself I had never recognized before like:
- I found that I had been living as if there was something wrong with me.
- I had been living like I was damaged goods or not good enough.
- I was living like I needed someone’s permission.
- I had allowed myself to be muted as if my voice had no value.
- I had acted like a child instead of standing on up into the adulthood I had a right to claim – an adulthood that had the right to privacy, respect, distance, separateness and truth on my own terms.
This was a part of the shame I had been living beneath. A shame I had inherited and learned and taken on as my own. And like Kevin McCallister the little boy left all alone in the movie “Home Alone” shouting for the world to hear once he finally begins to get over his fear of everything, “I am not afraid anymore!”
Here I am shouting, “I am NOT ASHAMED ANYMORE.”
Do you hear me? I AM NOT ASHAMED ANYMORE.
There is not anything wrong with me. I am not damaged goods. I don’t have to prove one damn thing.
It’s a dangerous thing when a once afraid, once ashamed, once people-pleasing, approval-seeking woman stands on up in her truth…. It’s a dangerous thing for those who had a vested interest in her continuing to live in defeat. It’s a dangerous thing for those who banked on her never understanding her depth, beauty, intelligence, courage, and strength. It can be a very dangerous thing when you finally discover your voice.
There is always going to be at least one person in your life who needs you to NOT know your importance – your purpose – your voice – your worth. You may have a whole group banking on you living in defeat.
Because when you find those things, when you discover your authentic-self and the importance of choosing self-care – there won’t be much place anymore for the people who threaten, barter, and tear at your flesh.
When you finally understand your worth – there isn’t much toxicity and poison you are willing to tolerate in your life anymore. Especially from the fear-mongering, shame spreaders… especially from those who refuse to see your worth, your goodness, and your depth, especially from those who desperately NEED you to NOT be OK. Especially from those who refuse to hear you.
When People Require Proof
It took me a long time to realize – once I had overcome my fears, my shame, my need to please others, and that it is OK to speak up and have an opinion about myself and the world around me – that I do not have to prove anything to anyone.
You do not need to prove one damn thing.
Sometimes your life history – your life’s theme song – is that no one ever listened. No matter how hard you shouted or how much proof or truth you offered – it wasn’t good enough. They had no interest in hearing you – they already knew.
You were muted. You were silenced. And they never noticed when you stopped talking… because they never heard you in the first place. They didn’t respect your voice. They certainly didn’t take your voice seriously.
So they probably won’t notice when you get really, really quiet.
What they will notice is when you STOP showing up… maybe. If it makes them uncomfortable enough they might notice when you are no longer there and then they might get mad. They will likely get angry and hurt that you have chosen to no longer participate.
Some people will really hate it that they can’t force you to participate on their terms.
And then chances are if you are silent, and no longer participating in the same ways – they will require proof that you have the RIGHT to your decisions.
But not just any ole’ kind of proof… they are going to demand the kind of proof that ONLY confirms their bias.
Just like they did back when they weren’t listening to you – they are only going to listen for the proof that confirms what they already think is happening (that’s called Confirmation Bias).
They will want to know the issues that led to your silence or lack of participation, so that they can prove to you that you are wrong – you have misunderstood them, you have been lying, you have been manipulated. They will require proof – so they can prove you wrong. They will require proof that let’s them off the hook.
You can’t meet that gaping hole of need for them – the need for proof. You will harm yourself trying.
You do not need people in your life who require proof that you are OK.
Because they will always require more and more and more proof. Do your recognize some of these?
- We need to prove that our marriage is solid
- We need to prove that we are not abusing or neglecting our children.
- We need to prove that our financial status is solid.
- We need to offer proof that we have not totally messed up our life together – because good lord we shouldn’t be able to do any of this without them.
- We need to prove where, when, who, how much time, what it cost – RE: all.the.things. need to be submitted as evidence to prove our right to all.the.actions.
- We need to prove that we are not misunderstanding them.
- We need to prove that we are peacemakers or able to reconcile, have forgiven them.
- We need to prove that we are not in “a deep, dark place.” (real wording happening there)
- We need to prove that the choices we are making as adults seeking independence and privacy and separateness as individuals, as a couple, and then for our family are valid choices.
- We need to prove that there is no past or present abuse or harm from outside parties that would have contributed to present choices.
- We need to prove that we are not being influenced by others who (they believe) have unresolved issues with them, and then they will also need those outside parties to submit an affidavit verifying their proof – their truth so that they can have verification that we are indeed NOT being negatively influenced in the choices we have made by these outside “haters.”
- We need to verify the truth or inconsistencies of our adolescence and young adulthood… stories that perhaps they never knew in full.
- We need to prove our emotional, financial, spiritual stability.
- Finally we need to verify that we recognize and celebrate their awesomeness – the contributions they have made in the past need to be celebrated and remembered often and with abundant applause.
And then ultimately they will require proof that our faith in God and as followers of Jesus Christ is valid (which is the Christian
Bully’s final straw… the one they pull out when they have nothing else they can use against you- they attack your faith, and your walk with God)
Because if we are not behaving in the manner that they require… then by golly gee – we are not following the same God, or we are not right with God, or our faith is not authentic enough.
Because if it is – if we really love Jesus and are following after Him- we would submit our
documents issues life for their nitpicking gossipwhoring consumption LOVE.
If we were really followers of Jesus – we would participate in offering the proof they require so that they can love us right.
I am calling HORSESHIT.
Calling it aloud.
You ARE OK. You Do Not Have to Prove It.
You can be OK, wholehearted, happy, financially & emotionally stable, not do all the things your parents/family did, live lives of peace and reconciliation and forgiveness and hope AND STILL NOT allow people who have been harmful and toxic and unsafe… into your life anymore.
You can be OK and NOT OFFER PROOF – to the voices who have never shut up about you and at you… ever.
You CAN silence the critics and not have to PROVE why you made that choice.
Actually it is probably the most authentic choice you could make to just not do it anymore, then it is to continue to show up and allow yourself to be hung out to dry, tarred & feathered, unheard, disrespected, mocked, shamed, ridiculed, nitpicked, and more. It is OK to not participate in the same ways anymore.
It can be the best choice you could ever make to let the bridge burn and walk away. It’s OK. You will be OK. You do not have to prove it.
It is probably the healthiest choice you could ever make to NO LONGER LIVE your life as if you have to prove everything to everyone watching.
And YES, it is a very good choice to NOT engage. Yes, it is acceptable and OK to protect your children from needing to PROVE that they are OK too.
If you could never offer enough proof… what makes you think your children will be able to meet those demands for proof too?
Because the truth is that there is no amount of proof that will be good enough. They will always believe about you, your family, and your life – exactly what they need to believe so that they feel good about themselves, so that they are correct, so that they are OK, so they don’t have to face their own shame.
They will always have reasons for helping to keep you feeling small, insignificant and dependent upon their approval.
In the end, it never really was about you – it was always about them.
And frankly, darling, you do not have to prove one damn thing.
Have you lived as if you needed to PROVE all.the.things.? How’s that working for you?