I’m halfway through an assertiveness training course and it’s been a real revelation, as if somehow everything makes sense. I’m very happy with how it’s progressing and wrote about it in detail here:
But what brought me to the point where I felt that an assertiveness training course would be beneficial for me? It was something I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but a recent fairly trivial event in my personal life had me thinking ‘I wish I knew what to say here’, whereas in reality I dealt with the situation in my normal manner, namely pretending it didn’t bother me. On the inside I got more and more annoyed and frustrated, sounding off to friends instead of dealing directly with the people involved. The people involved didn’t know how I really felt.
I know you have to pick your battles, but when you spend a lot of your life believing that your feelings are invalid, it clouds your ability to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t.
Learning the assertive way really helps, because being assertive means listening to yourself and being attentive to your own needs. It means being able to stand up for yourself when it is appropriate to do so. It means recognising what is worth your precious, finite energy, and what isn’t. And the way in which you act is so much more pleasant to others, because they know what they can expect from you. They find themselves feeling relaxed and happy around you, instead of having a general sense of unease but not being able to put their finger on it.
Although I have struggled with being overly aggressive at times in my life, my main problem at the time of taking on this course was acting too passively. Many that know me now wouldn’t think I’m a passive person but that’s largely because I work so hard at hiding my passive tendencies because they have not served me well in the past. Now I have decided I want to let them go once and for all.
These were some of the things I found myself doing, some recently and some not so recently. I started to pick myself up on a few of these things:
- Agreeing with the general consensus way too often, even though I have opinions to the contrary.
- Pretending something doesn’t upset me when it does
- Saying things are fine when they are not to avoid a fuss
- Avoiding people in order to side-step talking about an issue
- Bending over backwards to please others
- Ordering my own life around others, even those who are not close to me and don’t care about my efforts
- Abandoning my own opinions, values, belief and judgments and being easily swayed by other people whose ideas were contrary to mine
- Uncertainly about my own mind because I was always so willing to go along with others and let them decide things for me
- Lack of disclosure about myself to others that I’m never going to get to know on a personal basis, because there seems little point ‘being myself’
- Being unable to say no if someone wanted to employ me/ go out with me/ select me for something – they would make the decision and I would be powerless to resist
- The constant nagging feeling that I am inferior to everybody else
- Conviction that I can’t rely on myself to be consistent in my decision-making
- Feeling that I can’t trust myself to have control over my own communication
- Belief that my self-confidence fluctuates like the weather and is therefore not something I can control
- Inability to say what I really mean in the moment without it turning into either self-pitying or aggressive remarks/behaviour
- Angry outbursts when communication becomes simply too frustrating
- Being unfairly judgmental and harsh towards others, but keeping these opinions to myself. Not valuing others as individuals perhaps because I didn’t value myself and our collective rights
That list was longer than I was expecting and makes me sound like I really had it bad and went through life in a depressive, submissive and powerless way. I didn’t – not for the last 2 years anyway. In fact, to the contrary I have better confidence now than at any other period of my life. I have good self-knowledge having spent years already working on myself. I have the best attitude towards the future I’ve ever had, largely because I’ve a lot to be happy about but also because I’ve the developed the skills needed to cope with life, whatever happens.
The passive person spends much of their time lying both to themselves and to others. This is hugely counterproductive and very destructive. Others may feel guilty for taking advantage of the passive person, or superior because their passive behaviour marks them as inferior. Probably others will feel irritation and pity towards the passive person and may cease to respect them. I was very intrigued to learn that others may actually feel awkward around passive people – because they cannot know what the passive person wants or likes. And of course, that makes perfect sense. Being around an assertive person makes them feel great, because they know you’ll always be honest and say what you really think. You’re open. People like that. So, to be a true ‘people pleaser’, if that’s in your nature, be assertive because that way people will feel safe and know what to expect around you.
Self-deprecation seems to be part of the British sense of humour but it can mask a seriously damaging self-image. Putting yourself down, like I do quite a lot, isn’t really a very nice thing to do – after all, if you wouldn’t speak of others in that way, why talk to yourself like that, e.g “I’m so stupid”, “Could I be any more pathetic”? If you’re a passive person, take the time to pay attention to your self-talk because it might be feeding an unhealthy self-image.
Passive people may make few demands of others, but make unrealistically high demands of themselves which they are bound to fail to meet. It is the same low opinion of oneself that makes passive people put others first, belittle their own views, and seek approval from others above all else. Really it comes down to a lack of self-esteem, and a double standard when applied to other people’s rights and opinions as opposed to one’s own. Why should we treat ourselves with any less respect than that which we afford to others? Surely, if we want to be respected we must respect ourselves first?
What I’ve written about here are the slow penny-drops of the passive person. I’m finally starting to face up to the less-than-perfect communication style I have, and problems with self-esteem and self-image. The specific goals I have with learning assertiveness include having more control over my communication; experiencing a better quality of life with overall needs being met; having the tools to deal with uncertain or unpredictable situations; having less anxiety (especially first thing in the morning when I can feel quite daunted by the day ahead); having more respect from strangers and loved ones alike; being better able to command attention; and having improved wellbeing overall as not so much is pent up.
Assertiveness is a communication style that informs all our interactions with others, but it really starts with recognising what is lacking in our own self-opinion. Only when you’ve accepted your own individual rights as the foundation for living life can the assertive way take hold and flourish. Breaking the patterns of the past is no mean feat and certainly change can be very wrenching and even destructive if you’re not prepared for all that it can entail. But when you’re ready to take control of life and to break the bad habits of the past, it can be very, very liberating.