I have recently reached a new level of understanding of the value of acknowledging that I don’t know the answer for something. Growing up I was often asked to function above my level of ability or development. There was little room for not knowing. Not knowing was dangerous and unacceptable on some level. So, I improvised, a lot. I did the best I could often without the proper external support.
Friendships were damaged and ended due in part to my lack of awareness of my own limitations.
As I grew into my early adult years this part of me that tried to make up for not knowing became more and more problematic. It was difficult to identify situations where a simple “I don’t know” or curiosity rather than knowing the answer was more important. I missed out on learning opportunities. Friendships were damaged and ended due in part to my lack of awareness of my own limitations. Limitations I had not been allowed to acknowledge to survive. I hurt people and myself, I was often left very confused at the conclusions of these interactions. Wasn’t I just trying to help? Wasn’t I just trying to keep my loved ones safe?
Letting go of the identities I had cultivated as the “high functioning” family member, the friend who “knows what to do” and even the “mother of the group” on a night out.
My training as a Gestalt therapist reminded me repeatedly that I cannot assume that I know what the person across from me is communicating without carefully exploring with them what their meaning is. If I cannot assume what they are communicating, then I certainly cannot assume what they should do about their situation. As this way of being sunk in professionally it took longer for it to take hold personally. Letting go of the identities I had cultivated as the “high functioning” family member, the friend who “knows what to do” and even the “mother of the group” on a night out. Those were and are difficult identities for me to relinquish.
When I don’t know my limits, then I lose the ability to truly connect and be seen.
The other day a family member reached out to me to ask what should happen in a situation involving another family member. I finally told them that “I don’t know, maybe ask them?”. There was a part of me that felt like I failed in that moment. There was a part of me screaming my opinion on what should be done. There was a much larger part of me that felt the relief of acknowledging not knowing. There is power in acknowledging my limits. When I don’t know my limits, then I lose the ability to truly connect and be seen. When I don’t acknowledge my limits, I automatically ignore someone else’s boundaries and self-sovereignty.
Honoring my limits and limitations without the need for feelings of shame or the internal admonition that I should know.
I have spent lots of my life invested in being the person who knows. I’m exhausted of expecting myself to know. I’d prefer to invest in my curiosity, practicing saying “I don’t know” or “maybe” instead of an instant “yes, I’ll take care of that”. Honoring my limits and limitations without the need for feelings of shame or the internal admonition that I should know. When something new arises being willing to hear and learn from others.
If you can identify with any of this, I invite you to join me in “know it all recovery”.
Parts of this confession sting deeply but mostly it feels good to yell from the internet’s rooftops that I DON’T KNOW! I can be curious. I can learn new things. I can come alongside you and try and figure something out with you. I can even share my truth and truths that I have learned from others. What I don’t want to do any more is ignore my own limitations as well as the boundaries of others in the service of maintaining the identity of someone who knows. If you can identify with any of this, I invite you to join me in “know it all recovery”. It’s a much freer and authentic place to live, welcome.
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