I’ve been working on a class about assertiveness for Baggage Reclaim School because communicating your needs and wishes with respect and confidence is a huge part of not only increasing your self-esteem but also ensuring that you represent yourself adequately…even when there is a possibility that it might not be what other people want to hear, especially if it doesn’t suit their own agendas.
When you believe that there are ‘bad consequences’ to having and maintaining boundaries, communicating your needs, wishes, and expectations, and essentially putting yourself ‘out there’, this is a reluctance to assert yourself for fear of ‘losing out’, even though you’re losing anyway.
If you’ve been involved in unhealthy relationships including all manner of unavailable relationships such as being the Buffer on the rebound, or a Dreamer, or in an affair, or a secret relationship, or waiting on the fence for a flip-flapper to make a decision, this is passiveness. If you bust your own boundaries because you end up engaging in situations that detract from you and your values, this is passiveness because you end up accepting and allowing the boundary busting to continue (that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for their behaviour though) without having an active response (actions and words matching).
Too many of us worry about being liked by ‘everyone’.
Far too many of us worry about being perceived as The Good Guy/Girl.
There is too much emphasis put on being right.
There’s a hell of a lot of validation seeking going on.
We have grandiose expectations that because we have needs, expectations, desires, opinions etc that if we express them, we shouldn’t come up against any issue and it should be ‘easy’. We want to assert boundaries, convey opinions even if they’re not always going to be what someone wants to hear and we essentially want to do this with no conflict. We then get upset if we do experience conflict and decide that there’s no point in being assertive.
I hear so many stories that go along the lines of, “This person and that person busted my boundaries and when I told them I didn’t like it, they ended it with me. I don’t understand! Surely they could have apologised and tried to fix things?” Er, let me give it to you straight:
While there are of course misunderstandings, very obvious disrespect and certainly repeated busting of boundaries is not going to result in a situation where you tell them how upset you are with their behaviour and they go “OH…OK then. Wow, I’m sorry that ____________. I totally didn’t realise and I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” You really think a grownup doesn’t know when they’re pulling rinky-dink behaviour on you?
We also don’t realise how ridiculous it is for us to expect to tell someone that we don’t like who they are or how they behave and we imply or outright state that their current mode is not acceptable and that we need change, and then we get upset because we don’t like their reaction to being told that we don’t like who they are, how they behave, or that we want them to change. There is often a hidden expectation in these situations that you will communicate your unhappiness and they will show agreement by doing something to change and rectify the situation – but if you don’t like someone or their behaviour and essentially need them to transform into someone else, you go your own way.
Being assertive is not an automatic precursor to gaining agreement.
The funny thing is that when we tell someone that we’re basically not that keen on who they are and they opt out, it is because they’re agreeing with what we’ve said – that’s why a lot of people who are passive don’t voice what they really feel because they fear that the very person who they don’t truly like, love, or respect… will go.
It is the fear of ‘bad consequences’ that has many people who have low self-esteem partaking in unhealthy relationships and situations, being passive and then feeling victimised, helpless and without options.
Irrespective of what other people’s motivations, behaviours and agendas may be, if we want to treat ourselves as worthwhile people of value, we have to be assertive and communicate our needs, expectations, desires etc, even if in the process of doing so, it shows up some key differences between you and the other person and may represent a parting of the ways. Of course it might not; it may mean that you need to find a compromise (a healthy solution that you can both live with) but you can never truly be in the position to make healthy compromises if you’re not being assertive.
And note – I said assertive, not aggressive, which is trying to get what you want via force, manipulation and disrespect in the pursuit of your own aims, nor is it passive aggression where you attempt to achieve your aims via the back door – being indirect, often appearing to agree with a different course of action and then showing your true aims by being non compliant and essentially resistant.
Being assertive is not about getting other people to agree with you all the time or do what you want although it will certainly ensure that you’re never mistaken for a doormat.
It does require you to get out of your comfort zone, to speak when you’d rather bury your head in the sand, and to act when you’d rather let someone else do it. While some people are not going to appreciate you being assertive, there are many that will, most of all you.
The truth is, whether you’re a doormat or whether you have boundaries and treat you with love, care, trust, and respect, not everybody is going to agree with you or do what you want and you’re still going to experience conflict and you’re still, if you want to have any semblance of a life, going to have to get in the driving seat. One option will leave you feeling victimised and helpless when confronted with situations where you have to step up and the other option will have you stepping up because you’re worth the effort even in the face of getting out of your comfort zone. The more you step up, the more worthwhile you feel, the more you trust you, the better experiences you have.