Assertiveness Training: Ten Tips To A Stronger You

Posted at 02:18am on 30th November 2008

I’ve written, previously, about people pleasers and how we can go about managing conflicting priorities in specific situations. We talked about our need to expect respect, and how to promote dignity. Today I want to write about the art of assertiveness as a life style choice.

TAKING ON OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS

A number of years ago, I found myself going through a particularly difficult period of life. My daughter had died in suspicious circumstances, leaving a baby of eighteen months. My husband’s business was ailing, so I had to give up my career as an author and take on an administrative job to help keep us afloat. And, with a catastrophic breakdown in relationships in my family due to some ill-advised decisions made by my parents, I took on the role of peacemaker – only to find that instead of being seen as a mediator by some family members, I was made the scapegoat for all that had gone wrong.

The load I was having to shoulder was almost too much to bear. I knew that if I didn’t seek help I’d go under. Adamant that I didn’t want medication, I turned to a counsellor. Sometimes, you simply can’t go it alone! Here – with my own additions – are the points she raised in pulling me back from the abyss.

BECOMING MORE ASSERTIVE

  1. Learn to recognise and state your own needs (not as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, member of staff etc.) It’s surprising how hard it is, sometimes, to differentiate between our needs and those of others – particularly, I think, for women. A newspaper headline today caught my eye. It read: Mothers need me-time, too.
  2. Always expect respect as an intelligent and equal person. Again, I think this is often particularly hard for mothers – particularly mothers of boys. The only time I have ever cuffed a grandchildren was when one of them was being rude to his mother, and he ignored my request to respect her. Unless we adults teach our children to respect us, what hope have we that they’ll grow up respecting themselves or others?
  3. Learn to recognise your feelings, and to express them honestly and sensitively at the time. My husband used to be particularly inept at recognising his feelings. I found I needed the patience of Job, when we first got married (my second marriage) to get him to talk things out instead of stomping off to the proverbial garden shed.
  4. Stand by your opinions and values. You have a right to them, whilst being prepared to listen and discuss the opinions and values of others. I remember watching a TV programme once, long ago, where a roomful of people rapidly reached consensus in a straightforward debate. However, all but one were in cahoots. Gradually subjected to a forceful opposing point of view, each in turn began to back down until only the person who was not in on the experiment remained. With a look of absolute disbelief on his face, the one who was out on a limb eventually caved in to conform with the others – even though it was obvious that he knew that to do so was absurd.
  5. Make your own choices and say “yes” or “no” because you want to. This is similar to 1 and 3 above.
  6. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes. It’s natural to do so. Sometimes it’s harder to forgive ourselves for making mistakes than to forgive others for theirs.
  7. Never be afraid to say “I don’t understand – please explain again.”
  8. Recognise what you need and ask for it clearly. Not by dropping hints! Oh, golly! I’m terrible at this. And I’ve obviously passed it on to my daughters. One of my sons-in-law says that the first thing he had to learn when he married my youngest was ‘I think I must have left my bag upstairs’ translates, ‘please will you fetch my bag for me.’ And ‘Went to the hairdressers today’ means ‘Well, aren’t you going to use the P (pretty) word – or equivalent.’ I hate to admit it, but he’s right.
  9. Remember that you do not have to take on other people’s problems. Dealt with in my People Pleaser article.
  10. Act as you judge best (whether alone or in cooperation with others) – not for other people’s approval. Mea culpa! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Well – not nearly as bad as I used to be about wanting approval. In fact hardly at all now-a-days. You would tell me, wouldn’t you, if you think I’m wrong and should scrub this last remark? I mean, I’m perfectly willing to accept that I may be wrong and you may be right and . . .

Oh, hell! I’m going to stick to my guns whatever you think. So there!

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