(A Warrant-of-Fitness is the New Zealand equivalent of an M.O.T. in the UK, being a certificate to say your vehicle is road worthy.)
Assertiveness is that sweet spot, where you can speak up about your needs or opinions. You are neither passive nor aggressive, the two opposites on the continuum of communication styles.
To be passive is to “keep the peace”, a strategy endorsed by my mother, believed by her to be the best policy. This type of avoidance of any conflict by being passive, submissive or clamming up may bring about short-term relief but it can lead to passive-aggressive behaviour, where you get so sick of not “rocking the boat” or speaking up that you end up going to the other extreme and blowing up. This can come as quite a shock to both the recipient and yourself and is very damaging to relationships (and sometimes other things too, e.g., property). It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in for both parties.
This is the stuff of domestic violence and regrets follow, often with hearts and flowers and promises of, “I’ll never do it again”, or worse still, “It’s your fault, you made me angry”.
Assertiveness is a skill we need to practice and develop if we are going to have healthy relationships which I believe, deep down, most of us want. We just don’t know what they look like or how to do it! Healthy communication involves speaking up in a non-blaming way and taking ownership of our own feelings.
Learning assertiveness may be a new skill. Like anything new it takes time, practice and support. I liken it to starting out at the gym with little to no experience and a poor level of fitness. You wouldn’t expect to be able to lift 40kg weights in the first week, would you? Assertiveness is the same. We need to practice, be kind to ourselves when we don’t meet our expectations (which are probably unrealistic), whilst we are building up our ASSERTIVENESS MUSCLES!
If you’ve had a history of abuse and/or neglect (remember, neglect IS abuse), then speaking up can be terrifying! Even the thought of it can trigger emotional responses from past attempts where you were shut down, either by psychological, emotional or physical means. We need help to heal these parts of ourselves or our attempts will be in vain and we’ll berate ourselves for our failure.
SET THE BAR LOW! This means you are more likely to have success which’ll encourage you to keep practicing it. Even small successes will release dopamine in the brain, a chemical reward, reinforcing the new behaviour, and we’ll be more likely to repeat it.
Being assertive doesn’t mean you’re hard, uncaring or selfish, contrary to the opinions of some. Women in particular have been given these labels (often by men I might add – sorry gents) and often used to keep us in line and subservient. Assertiveness is a partner with boundaries, it helps protect what is important to us and is actually self-care.
Will people like it when you start to speak your mind or ask for what you need? Some will not. That is just a sad fact. This can be a big hurdle for some when they are trying to assert themselves in a new way. Those who mind don’t matter – because it’s in THEIR interests that you stay the same. But the people who REALLY matter, whilst they may feel uncomfortable with this new behaviour, will be happy that you are taking better care of yourself. It may mean some relationships expire and fall away and others will change, but ask yourself, “what’s the alternative?”, a life of people pleasing which leads to resentment? Or a life of blowing up to try and control people, places and things?
On the road to our Mental and Emotional Warrant-of-Fitness some changes need to be made. Who’s with me for the ride? Life won’t be dull.
What situations do you find it difficult to speak up and resort to people pleasing behaviours and strategies to keep the peace and keep yourself safe?
Having been years in a narcissistic relationship, where I was blamed for everything that was wrong, people pleasing and being passive was a survival strategy. It kept me safe, miserable, but safe. But it ate away at me inside, so much so I avoided going home after work for fear of more guilt-tripping lectures.
Learning boundaries, saying “no” and developing my assertiveness muscles wasn’t something I could’ve done without the support of a counsellor and my sanity friend. Our relationship dissolved as a result. But, strange as it sounds, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I started to get my life back and learn what I actually thought and needed. I’ve never looked back.
(c) Karen Lighthouse
Thanks for reading and take care until next time.
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Words by Karen Lighthouse.
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