How to compromise without losing yourself

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Text to a friend: “When does compromising become compromise of SELF?” Like with all things that make me wonder, I wondered in writing. Because running big questions by good friends is always a good idea.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. About boundaries. About self expression. About righteousness. About honoring my truth while respecting someone else’s. About caring for someone so much we’re willing to compromise, which I believe whole heartedly is the right (and hard thing to do). What’s even harder is knowing when that compromise is actually a compromise of self – of our truth, of our needs, of our pain. Because I’ve done. That once, but many times. And I’ve done it after I swore I’d never do that again. Relationships of any kind force this work on us, if we’re really tuning in. Colleagues and friendships continue the process. Families often deepen this explorations. And intimate relationships level up this work even further.

I think we all fall on different ends of this spectrum. I know people who are so willing to compromise, they lose themselves in the people and the needs of those people around them. I know people who respect and honor their own boundaries so well, they have a hard time seeing where that might be blinding their ability to read someone else’s needs. And then there’s everything in between.

I don’t know the answer. Because I don’t think it’s something to know but rather something to feel. But I do know that it’s important to surround ourselves in friendship, in families, in relationships, and in love, with people who know their own boundaries so they know how to help you respect yours. And vice versa. I want the people in my life who won’t ask me to do something that’s not true to me, because they know my truth. And vice versa.

The feeling to feel, rather than the answer to know, is when we feel like something has cost us our power in order to be in it. Are we adjusting our reactions? Are we getting separated from our truth? Are we hiding our needs? These things make us feel like one more light in the house went off. And if we keep on that way, eventually room by room, there’ll be no light left.

Compromising is power. Saying sorry. Changing ways. Getting curious instead of defensive. Have an mindful reaction instead of being reactionary. Thinking before we speak. Going out of our way. Trying to approach things differently. Not leading the way. Or maybe leading the way. Adjustments away from our default can bring so much closeness in our most important relationships.

But when any of those cost us our power, when they put a thumb on the fire of who we are, and the light dims, we’ve moved from compromise of actions to compromise of self. It’s a thin wave to ride, and we won’t always get it right, but it’s important that we try.

This article originally appeared on Maxie McCoy.