You’re driving down the highway in the right lane and come upon a sign reading: “Left Lane Closed Ahead.” Do you slow down so drivers in the left lane can merge in front of you? Or do you speed up so nobody passes you? Your colleague is sure that the annual meeting last year was in March. You’re certain it was April. Do you give the benefit of the doubt and say, “You could be right,” or do you maintain that your memory is correct? Your spouse wants to visit your in-laws for the holidays even though you previously agreed to stay home this year. Do you give in and go, or insist upon sticking to the agreement?

The basic question is, when to yield to the other and when to hold on to yourself? As you might expect, there is no one-size-fits-all, easy answer to this question, but perhaps there are some ways to think about it that might help. 

Which way do you tend to lean?

One place to start is by noticing whether you have a particular tendency to do one or the other. It’s possible to overdo just about anything. Are you the type to hit the gas pedal, plant your feet, stick to your guns a lot of the time? Have you gotten feedback about this from others over the years? Does this style affect the quality of your relationships or your success at work? If so, you might want to consider loosening your grip and yielding to others more. 

Or is it your style to be too much of a people-pleaser, sell yourself short, let others get their way or even take advantage of you? Do you tend to feel resentful that you’re always the one giving in and it’s never reciprocated? If so, then you might need to learn how to strengthen your inner core, hold on to yourself more and yield less.

Why do you lean that way?

Another question to ask yourself is why are you yielding or not yielding in the first place? If you’re honest with yourself and examine your motivations for your choice, are you pleased with what you discover? Are you maintaining your position because it seems like a healthy, reasonable and safe thing to do? Or are you afraid of feeling weak or being seen as a pushover if you yield? Do you have a tendency to feel entitled to have things go your way?

Are you giving up your position out of simple generosity and compassion, or are your afraid of feeling selfish or running the risk of others being upset with you? Do you feel unworthy, not good enough, like you don’t deserve to have a voice or a seat at the table? Is there a fear of, or taboo against, disappointing others?

Balance and choice

A reasonable balance is what we’re shooting for. It seems healthy to be confident, self-assured and able to stand one’s ground even when others disagree and challenge us. It also seems like a good idea to know how to step aside, to be flexible and to sacrifice our preference for the sake of another. We can try to avoid being aggressive or passive, and to learn what it means to be respectfully assertive. 

Having the ability to do both, sometimes choosing to yield and sometimes choosing to hold on to one’s self, seems more adaptive than being restricted, by habit or fear, to one approach or the other. By understanding whether we tend to yield too much or too little, and what fears might underlie these tendencies, we are better positioned to make an adjustment and to achieve a better balance. 

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Photo by Mikael Seegen on Unsplash 

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Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.