Should we talk about compliance?

Compliance. A noun. The practice of obeying rules or requests of those in authority.

To comply. The verb. To obey the rule or request.

Compliant. The adjective. The quality of being too willing to obey the rules or agree to requests in hopes that it will get you the desired result. It won’t and if it does, you’ll hate what you get anyhow.  “Compliantly” would be the adverbial form, rarely used. I couldn’t find a single instance of it as pronoun. [i]

And although words in English are ostensibly gender-neutral, compliance reads as feminine. It remains a quality people like to see women embody most of the time and that underlying societal hum of expectation is responsible for much damage.

It reminds me of a joke.
Why do women giggle?
It’s the only sound they can make with clenched teeth. [ii]  

Trying to be all things opposite at the same time is challenging.

I’m compliant, although I’m not sure it’s my nature. I think it’s a learned behaviour. It’s like my eating disorder. It’s a way to please people, to protect myself from conflict and criticism. It’s a way to stay safe.

If you’re compliant, things will work out. And they do. For other people. They get what they want. If you wait for the world to give you what you “deserve” for being a good girl, you’ll wait forever. Regardless of the fairness of the situation. [iii]

It’s been an annoying realization, that other people don’t act the way I want them to (or the way I think they should). Turning myself into an agreeable doormat didn’t make people treat me well. They took me at my word and walked all over me.

How dare they?

I love a good doormat.

This is the flip side of the compliant nature: the angry rage when things don’t go your way. You did what you were supposed to do, and now you’re supposed to get your reward. You didn’t even want to do some of this stuff. You did it because it proves you’re a good person and a good friend.

When the world doesn’t recognize your sacrifice, the anger is large. You did what you didn’t want to do and got nothing? You gave up everything and got nothing in return for your noble sacrifice? They should definitely pay.

This plays in my head in her voice.

It is, I’m embarrassed to say, an immature mindset. It’s frustrating to acknowledge one has less than stellar qualities, though I suppose it beats a perpetual blind spot.

Other people don’t know about the deal you’ve made with them. Other people don’t know there are rules and expectations. And because they don’t, they go about their lives. Sometimes, things line up and we feel good but mostly, those of us who’ve turned complying into some form of “tit for tat” art form are doomed to disappointment. And temper tantrums. [iv]

Compliance seems like a waste of time when you look at it closely. Except when it comes to speed limits. [v] Compliance doesn’t get you what you want, nor does it let you be who you are.

I’ve been living this bit of lightbulb insight for a bit now. Unfortunately, it’s a bit like boundaries. In the early days, the tendency is to be over-the-top. It doesn’t hurt to agree to suggestions some of the time. Pissy for the sake of it isn’t mature.

I’m assured that the pendulum will swing back and I’ll level. If it doesn’t, oh well.

One of the more miserable truths.

[i] The qualifier’s mine.

[ii] From Cathy Guisewhite. It’s odd: for all its popularity, Cathy cartoons are hard to find online.

[iii] My brain wants life to be fair and balanced. I can get angry when it isn’t. Getting angry isn’t helpful, however, and an obsession with “fair” can lead to judgmentalism.  

[iv] A tantrum’s a tantrum, whether it’s expressed or hidden in your head.

[v] Don’t get pedantic. I’m being creative with language and am not going to list every law one should comply with.

11 thoughts on “Should we talk about compliance?

  1. I tend to swing in the opposite direction. I have a very strong independent streak, although stubborn is probably the word my family would use. I’m the poster child for reactance—tell me what to do, and I dig in my heels and do the opposite to exert my independence. It’s a problem when what I’m being told to do is actually something I want to do or know would be best to do, because I’m still digging in my heels and refusing. Overgrown toddler, basically. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic write-up and exactly where I am at the moment.

    I’ve done the boundaries thing, and now it’s as if there’s a kind of loneliness that didn’t seem to exist prior to my asserting myself properly.

    It’s as if some people only care about themselves, and they’ve proven that with how they handled you.

    I smell a bit of narcissism or narcissistic traits in their ways and their own lack of boundaries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It feels good when someone gets it in their bones, although I’m sorry you have the same issues.

      There’s definitely a smidge of narcissism.

      And you’re not wrong about the loneliness. It’s tempting to reach out in all the old ways. I hope we both stay strong 💖

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This: It’s a way to please people, to protect myself from conflict and criticism. It’s a way to stay safe.

    Yep that’s compliance in a nutshell for me. Still doing it despite being a supposed adult and those I needed to comply with being dead long ago. Learned behaviour for safety purposes. Sad really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is sad, especially because it’s behaviour was needed when we we’re little. How awful is that? But I get being frustrated. I get completely impatient with how long it’s taking me to unlearn those habits. 💖


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