I like to think of myself as a fairly confident person. I mean, there are obviously the days when I feel as though I’m doing everything wrong and wallow in self-pity, but who doesn’t, right? In the grand scheme of things, however, I feel pretty okay in my own skin. If you ask my friends or close family, they might even say I’m….the “c” word.

Yeah, that’s right, confrontational. Get your head out of the gutter, GrrlPunch readers!

Being a confrontational person, especially as a woman, always seems to be classified as negative. When someone calls you confrontational, it’s usually said with a serious tone, and almost always meant to be an insult. This makes no sense to me, especially because I consider my confrontational nature a beneficial trait. Why revel in pettiness when you can be direct? Letting conflict fester not only weighs heavily on your insides, but it also manifests into stress acne – which is definitely something I’m not a fan of. Are you?

While I am the type that prefers to confront the issue head-on as opposed to avoiding it, there is one thing that, for most of my life, I’ve never really been able to avoid, regardless of my straightforward nature. Because things seem less scary when there’s a way to classify them, I’ve decided to name it “Minnie Mouse Syndrome.”

I remember the day when I realized I was a sufferer of Minnie Mouse Syndrome. I was sixteen, and I had just started working my first job as a hostess at a swanky Italian restaurant. My entire job involved welcoming, seating, and engaging with customers in a way that “put them in a good enough mood to tip well and come back” as my supervisor explained to me during the interview. I knew I’d be good at the job; like I said, I’m a total “C” word and never struggle when introducing myself to or engaging with new people. That was essentially my entire job description. Piece of cake.

One night in particular, I was seating two older women who were especially chatty. They explained to me that they had been friends for the past forty years, and in between marriages, work, and kids had went out to dinner every month for the past thirty. Before I knew it, they were asking me how old I was, what I wanted to be when I grew up, where I went to high school. Oh! My granddaughter goes there! Do you know her?

And just like that, we had been talking for fifteen minutes. Without even realizing it, I had sat down at the empty chair at their table, going back and forth with them, figuring out all of the connections we had. You may think things like this would get me in trouble with my boss, but because it was a family-owned restaurant, this was a normal sort of thing. Getting to know the customers in most cases even earned you brownie points.

Anyway, I realized I had to get back to work, and politely handed them their menus, disappearing behind the wall to the waiters’ station where my coworker was sitting at a screen entering a table’s order. She asked me a question and I replied quickly, and jumped when I heard the difference between my voice with her and my voice with the two old ladies. Although I am known for exaggerating stories, I could have sworn that there was a multi-decibel difference between the two. Compared to my quick exchange with the other waiter, I sounded like a total pipsqueak. And not only that, but I was smiley. So smiley, that my cheek muscles hurt after the exchange. In my everyday life, I’m never like that! I don’t necessarily have a deep voice, but by no means would I classify my voice as squeaky.

From then on, I’d catch myself transforming into a smiley character with the voice of a Disney princess, every time I’d interact with a customer. You would think that because I was aware, I’d be able to correct the behavior, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was like something took me over, and I had to completely change my demeanor, like my life depended on it. It’s a compulsion.

The thing that upset me the most was the fact that it so wasn’t me. In every other aspect of my life, with my friends, family, even at school, I was confident, straightforward, Olivia. I couldn’t figure out what caused me to, quite literally, croak on the job. I would go into work for each shift, and after parking my car stay back for a little longer to have a little talk with myself whilst filling in my eyebrows.

“Okay, you. Today will be different. Today’s the day you turn back into a “C” word. Today’s the day you stay true to who you are. Own your voice. Don’t trade it in for that shrill, smiley façade. Who you already are is pleasant enough.”

I’d convince myself that I was ready to take the bull by the horns, and I’d go into work with my overly drawn in eyebrows and be ready to take the night by storm. A customer would walk in, I’d grab a few leather bound menus, and open my mouth to speak.

And there would go the pipsqueak. She’d take me over. Even though she was created out of passivity, she was still good at taking charge of the situation. Every time this happened, I felt like a failure, like I had lost a battle that was totally stupid, but mattered to me nonetheless. And even worse, I was losing to myself.

After about a year, I left that gig, and felt a sense of relief. I wondered if I’d be able to leave the Minnie Mouse Syndrome with it; maybe it was normal to be that way in your first job, maybe I’d finally grow out of the habit and go back to being me.

That didn’t happen. If anything, the Minnie Mouse Syndrome got even worse.

As I embarked on more things that were out of my comfort zone; jobs, internships, college, it started to infiltrate my being more and more. I started to wonder if I had went soft. This was an especially terrifying thought, especially because I had become so accustomed to my title as a total “C” word.

When I started thinking about this issue more deeply, I began to wonder if it was just me that went through this. Did anybody else find themselves succumbing to a level of passivity that they didn’t ask for?

Because I needed validation in my suffering, I did what any girl would do. I asked my closest girlfriends.

The answers were sort of mixed. Some had no idea what I was talking about (this is a normal occurrence for me so I wasn’t surprised), and others knew exactly what I was talking about. They even had their own names for the phenomenon; “Service Voice”, “Sweet Voice”, one friend even said when she was in this situation she’d start to talk with an even thicker Southern accent, and thus called it her “Southern Housewife Voice”. I guess that in this moment it’s sort of important to note that we do live in Tennessee, and although we may not realize it, already have a sort of Southern drawl.

I don’t want to generalize here, but I’m fairly confident in the idea that this is a women’s issue. Rarely, if ever, do I see men make the pitch of their voice higher in response to a confrontational situation. So, if this really is something that affects women, then why?

According to my girl squad focus group, it’s a defense mechanism, through and through. It’s almost a frightening thought to be perceived as domineering. The best way to bypass, in turn, is to become a bubbly, happy, agreeable version of yourself. Step one is sounding sweet, which is when Minnie Mouse Syndrome comes into play.

Eureka! The issue is solved. Minnie Mouse Syndrome is caused by the years and years of sexism that is lain thick onto our society. Alright, I’ve figured it out. You can all click out of this article and go back to your Buzzfeed quizzes.

Just kidding. I already know that female oppression is the root of this issue because it’s 2018, and that seems to be the cause of most things these days. What I’m more concerned with is how to combat the issue of Minnie Mouse Syndrome, because at the end of the day, this is something that will require a level of internal work to get over.

I think that the first step to getting over it is getting over that fear of being perceived as something other than “sweet”. What’s so great about being sweet anyways? By measuring the minimal amount of risk when it comes to talking in a normal tone of voice, it might make it seem less scary, and soothe your subconscious.

If you too suffer from Minnie Mouse Syndrome, I wish I had some cute little listicle that detailed an easy way to combat it. But, the truth is, I’m still suffering from it too. Now that I have a desk job that involves being in a formal work setting, it’s at an all time high. But, instead of focusing on the negatives, I choose to focus on the victories, which might be something as small as reclaiming my natural voice as I greet some passing by me at the coffee cart. The more you revel in those, the more likely they are to happen again, and although I my chronic optimism sometimes fails me, I like to believe that they will slowly but surely outweigh the losses to my agreeable façade.

Claiming your space, and your voice, is an uphill battle. But, so long as you remember you’re not alone in your struggle, and persist through, you will find it eventually.