Today I read a column my mother drafted for our local newspaper on assertiveness. She wrote about how as a young woman, she didn’t understand assertiveness. She dealt with her husband and her children by being aggressive, yelling, screaming, and bullying. She was convinced it was the only way we would listen and cooperate. With her friends and extended family, she wasn’t honest about what she thought, felt, and wanted from them because she was scared that they wouldn’t like her or want to be in relationship with her. She justified her behavior by believing she had no other choice.
She was introduced to the concept of assertiveness when she took a program offered by a community agency. She soon realized that the skills she was learning were going to take time and effort to become comfortable and be implemented in her relationships. At first, they felt foreign and weird. But she could clearly see that the approach was much more respectful than the way she had been communicating and it felt intuitively right for her. The more she practiced these new assertive skills she was learning, the better she felt about herself, and the better she got along with others, and the easier it became.
That course opened the door to a new life and passion for her. She was so impressed with the positive changes in herself and her life that she wanted to share that kind of program with others. She began taking university courses, reading self-help books, and taking related workshops on a variety of relationship dynamics. And, over time, and with influences from a wide variety of perspectives, she developed an assertiveness training program (along with many others) that she now facilitates.
I clearly remember those days of transition for my mother. I was about 13 years old when slowly but surely, I watched my mother quite literally transform herself from a physically abusive, angry, hostile bully into an assertive, calm, and loving woman and mother.
Looking back, and with the perspective of my own life experience, I am filled with admiration and “awe” of the work, determination, and sheer grit it must have taken to reinvent and transform herself at that magnitude.
Reading the column brought me to pause and evaluate my own assertiveness – am I happy with how assertive I am or do I think I could improve?
Assertiveness isn’t just about being upfront with what you think. It is particularly understood in terms expression; the ability to tell others our thoughts and feelings and ask for what we want openly and directly. And, an equally important aspect of assertiveness is listening in such a way that the other person feels heard, valued, and understood.
In my interpersonal relationships (close friends and immediate family), I pride myself on being someone who “tells it like it is” and in a respectful manner. I try to be honest and forthcoming about who I am, what I think, and what I want from people. I try hard to not beat around the bush, be obtuse, or unclear. I am quite certain I don’t always succeed but I feel very confident and proud of my efforts. I know that in being assertive, I feel strong, confident, and empowered.
That being said, there are definitely small pockets of friends and family that I don’t feel as comfortable being my “honest” self with. Those relationships often leave me feeling weak, drained, resentful, and angry – at myself for being such a rug and push over.
At my work, I am the queen of “people pleasing” and saying yes, often to my own dismay. I have an exceptional work ethic and am quite competent – that coupled with my inability to appropriately assert myself in this venue often leads to added unnecessary stress, an overwhelming workload (some of which shouldn’t even be mine to start with), and a feeling of being taken for granted. But I am not in the dark; I know who the problem is – she looks back at me in the mirror every single morning.
Maybe it’s time for me to take my mother’s course again and practice applying the techniques to transform and reinvent my work self.
In my personal life, maybe it’s time to evaluate the importance/value of those “draining” relationships in my life and ask myself if I want them to remain a part of my life. If the answer is yes, I definitely need to start practicing being more assertive.
How about you – how do you succeed at being assertive in your life?