My experience at the burger joint.
Self Esteem & Yielding to Others
So there I was at the burger joint that I frequent every week, talking to the staff like I usually do, having a good time. My order was complete and I had it in hand. I was just wrapping up a conversation with the staff who were smiling and enjoying the back-and-forth we were having.
At this time another customer had just arrived at the cash and was waiting a few seconds because we were all talking. After a couple more seconds (maybe 10 in total) he became impatient and started to gesture for the staff’s attention.
I had most my back turned to him, but because I am very sensitive to anger and my mind is usually scanning the room looking for threats (angry people), I could feel his impatience and see his gestures with my peripheral vision alone.
He was actually waving his phone at them back and forth because he ordered his meal from it prior to getting there. His face and body language were screaming, “Hello????? I’m here and I’ve been waiting for 3.6 seconds and nobody’s paying attention to me. Let’s go people!”
He was rude and impatient and I started to become very anxious, wanting to end the conversation with the staff so that that somebody else (he) could be served.
My fear was not only that he would get angry, but the longer he waited the higher his level of anger would be, with my anxiety level matching his frustration in tandem (or at least my perception of what his frustration level was).
I hate that. I hate when other people don’t manage their anger well and allow it to build up until their behavior becomes hostile. I hate when people are clearly angry but don’t say anything to dissolve that anger or resolve the situation. I can sense it because I’m hypervigilant to other people’s moods thanks to my father, and so when I know that someone’s angry I usually try to do something to diffuse the situation.
Over the years I’ve become very resentful at having to take on the role of peacemaker, by having to manage other people’s anger. My anxiety makes me believe very strongly that something horrible and possibly violent will happen if people are not mindful of their anger states, and allow their anger to go unchecked, escalating until some catastrophe happens.
That’s my anxiety talking but that anxiety is so powerful that I can’t help but believe it. I know my fears are obviously untrue because I’m not there to assuage 8 billion people’s anxiety every day and yet the world hasn’t fallen apart … for now 🙂
So undoubtedly people get angry all the time, manage that anger poorly and don’t light the place on fire. Sure, but I still can’t help but believing something catastrophic like that will happen. My issue does that to me.
Obviously, for those of you who have been following these blog posts, this comes from my early experiences with my father whose anger was volatile and unpredictable.
Back to the burger joint.
So the man behind me is impatient and trying to get the staff’s attention, I’m anxious and trying to end the conversation to leave so he can be served. I look at the staff and they don’t seem to care one bit about that man. They don’t even notice him let alone that he is angry. They are all about 16 to 22 years old and I’ve noticed that this generation don’t seem to be afraid of authority the way I was when I was younger.
When I worked those kinds of jobs, every single employee was afraid of their boss and afraid of the customers because we were told the customer always right. As an aside, I’m happy to see that this new generation isn’t as afraid, but at the same time feel the pendulum may have swung a little too far. It’s all right though, that’s just how things go.
The conversation naturally ended a few moments later and I left. Frustrated with myself.
I realize there were two issues in that interaction. The first was my fear of anger which was just described above.
The second was the fact that some part of me deep down didn’t feel I deserved to take up time or space if somebody else wanted that time or space. I had an establishment’s attention and time, but I felt that I should have yielded it to someone else.
In other words I should be moving aside for others because I’m not as important as other people are.
That’s the legacy of the shame I brought with me into adulthood. The belief that I don’t have the right to take up space. To be more accurate, I do have the right to take up space as long as nobody else is angry about it, or that other people have what they want first (which is really a way of saying I don’t have the right to take up space.)
I hate that I have that belief. I hate that I have this shame. I’m embarrassed by it. But I’m glad that I’m able to be aware of it, to learn from it and to do better next time.
I’ve always known that I have shame, but it’s never been as concrete to me as this. Really getting in touch with the feeling in my chest and stomach that I’m not a good person. Feels horrible. I know I can’t do anything about though unless I expose myself to it, and situations like this are perfect for doing just that.
The next time something like this happens, where I am taking up someone’s time, or taking up space and I know another person wants that space, I’m going to remember this instance and hopefully I’ll be able to stand my ground and assert my right to exist by breathing through any discomfort and standing tall.
And if I fail again I’ll likely beat myself up once more. But then I’ll have even more awareness going into that situation the next time and have a better chance of succeeding. If not, rinse and repeat until I win.
I realize that if I go out almost anywhere into the world, situations like these will present themselves multiple times a day, which would give me plenty of opportunity to practice. This practice will build my assertiveness muscle until one day I don’t even notice the man standing behind me wanting something I have.
That’s why I journal and blog about this. To increase my awareness and get clarity on what happens to me emotionally, so I can grow and learn to come to terms with my shame and take up space the way everybody else does.
I hope that reading this helps you do the same. If you have any similar experiences you’d like to share, or if you’re going through a similar journey, I’d love to post it here on the blog to share with others. The more we delve into this type of honesty, the more we all benefit and grow.
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