A lesson in unrestrained individualism

Stop filtering yourself and trying to fit in all the time

Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

“Then just tell her how you feel, and sort it out amongst yourselves, but don’t let this continue” my friend yelled at me from the other end of the line.

I had just taken his opinion on how to deal with a mutual friend of ours (lets call her Ms D), who was getting increasingly difficult to deal with, owing to her personal life circumstances, and the heightened sensitivity that came with it.

“You just had to utter the wrong words” I told him. “Then that’s her prerogative” he snapped back in response. He was already upset that we even had to be discussing this. And when things calmed down in a few minutes, he explained it to me in detail. But first, I’ll have to let you in on how it all began.

I was the one to call him up. It was just a few days ago, when the second lock-down for this year was still in full effect. He was called back to his hometown, when it first began 2 months ago. So Ms D and I had his house to meet up, work, and socialize whenever we wanted. She decided to stay put at his place for the entirety of the lockdown, whereas I chose to visit every now and then. When the lockdown later got extended indefinitely, I decided to camp there for a week to enjoy a change in environment and have someone to socialize with. During my time there, I noticed certain aspects of her behaviour which neither of us had gotten to see before. I even had to call him up a couple of times to get him to console her, as she was feeling extremely morose and depressed about the current situation. But that isn’t what this write-up is about.

It’s about how I was always being made the target of her emotional outbursts just because we lived together. So I made it a point to call him and narrate the entire episode once I got back home.

I divulged to him how easy it was to trigger her and put her into a foul mood, how I had to carefully craft my words every second of the day, how I became increasingly afraid of speaking to her, not knowing which word or phrase might spark the next outburst. I also mentioned how she always took out her frustration of unpaid loans, her job insecurity and financial situation ostensibly on everyone she spoke to on the phone, but even more so on me, since I was right there.

He immediately retorted in a quite non-chalant manner, asking me why I put up with such behaviour in the first place. He said:

“If I had to filter myself and watch my way with words even in the company of friends, then what’s the point of friendship? I filter myself 50 times a day in the office as it is, don’t I ?”

He further added that I needn’t hesitate in speaking my mind regardless of the other persons life situation. That I shouldn’t be stopping myself from saying what I feel, just because someone’s going through a tough time. That if things are really that bad, that person shouldn’t even be hanging out with me in the first place. And that was a revelation to me. Because once you let your guard down and allow yourself to be controlled by others, they’ll just keep censoring you incessantly, until one fine day you’ll be too afraid to speak anything at all.

“Bottling up emotions and feelings become a routine part of adulthood as we try to tread the line between being politically correct and accepted by others.”

Now let’s get back to the call. Since the three of us work together, it was a conference call. And he, being the one who always talks quite straightforwardly, said in reference to me, “that guys entire life is a vacation”, hinting at the amount of free time I have, when she enquired about whether I would have time to take on some additional work in the company.

I am pretty financially secure. But that doesn’t mean my life is a vacation. And even if it was, I wouldn’t want my closest friend blurting it out to every mutual friend we have, especially her, considering the heaps of loans shes thrust upon herself and the general depressed state she’s constantly in. But my friend, being the cold-hearted schmuck that he is stood his ground and said, “If I was in your position, I’d have no problem telling my friends about it. Not purposely of course. But if it came up in casual conversation, I wouldn’t stop myself from blurting it out. That’s just not how friendships work. If your own friends are going to despise you, then they aren’t your friends.”

And that hit me hard. Being an introvert with social anxiety, I’d never thought about conversations from this angle. He again reiterated how he already had to filter himself hundred times a day at the office, and how frustrating it was to not be able to speak his mind. Friends were the only reprieve he had at the end of the day to be his true uninhibited self.

And now that I look back on all my past conversations with others, his advice does indeed make sense. Don’t allow anyone boss over or control you. Enabling such control freaks is akin to giving them a key to your voice. Unless you’re going to say something that would directly offend someone in a group, it isn’t your duty to take each and every friends’ personal situation into consideration before spitting your words out. We already get paid to do that at work, don’t we? We already restrain ourselves for more than 40 hours a week. Do we really need more of that?

“researchers from Psychology Weekly believe that people who bottle up their emotions actually drag out stressful situations longer than need be, and end up loathing themselves for their inability to speak up.”

Moreover, it is a known fact that bottling up your emotions and feelings leads to a lot of internal frustration, anger and disappointment. Always stand your ground and be unfettered in your socialization. If someone gets triggered or offended, then that’s their prerogative.

Because if a friend circle isn’t the place where you can let yourself loose and speak your mind, then where can you?