A Pushover's Guide to Being Assertive
I’ve always been THAT person. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that always says yes because I just feel guilty saying no. I’ll avoid conflict at all costs, and sometimes this will result in me dropping everything to help someone else. I always find myself putting other people’s needs above my own. All the pushover’s out there – I know you know what I’m talking about.
This is definitely not a new thing for me, and it eventually got to the point where I was putting other people’s needs over my own health (mental and physical). Some people recognized this and have been very upfront about it, but others tend to use my passiveness for their own advantage. This is where one would feel as if they are being ‘walked over’. Just the other day, I was discussing this with my aunt. I couldn’t find the exact word I meant, but once I described how I was feeling, she immediately knew: assertive. I needed to coach myself to be assertive. Once the word came out of her mouth, I got flashbacks of prior managers, friends, coworkers etc., who have all told me the same thing: I need to be more assertive. Nearing the end of our conversation, my aunt offered a booklet to me that she was reading from the Canadian Mental Health Association titled Being Assertive by Dr. Chris Williams. If any of you have the time, I would definitely recommend this workbook.
After extensive reading, I have compiled some general points that might be helpful to anyone who has difficulty being assertive. But before I begin, I want to highlight that there are two types of behaviours that can be seen in people who lack assertiveness. There is passive behaviour, and there is aggressive behaviour. If we look at these on a spectrum, the optimal end goal is assertiveness, where passiveness and aggressiveness fall on opposite ends of the spectrum.
To start this off, here is a list of key things that are very easy to write, but not as easy to do:
First and foremost, respect yourself and your needs. You are human and you have needs. Never should someone else’s needs come before your own. This is the first step, and definitely the hardest (at least for me). This can take on many different forms, but the most common might be saying no to things that you really can’t do or don’t want to do. Trust me when I say that you will not offend anyone, and if you do, maybe consider why that person is in your life in the first place. But in the end, constantly reminding yourself that you are valuable and worthy of being respected goes a long way.
Ask for what you need or want directly. This is definitely the second-hardest step. I never want to ask for something, because I feel like a burden, and I’m scared they’ll say no. But on the other side, I would be lying if I said I do not get disappointed when someone close to me cannot recognize that I need/want something without me asking directly. Why is it that we stay in this constant cycle when we know the end result almost every time? No one is a mind reader, and sometimes the answer might be no. Before getting disappointed, ask yourself if they were being assertive themselves. If so, you’ll have to respect their decision and right to be assertive! However, sometimes the opposite case occurs, and you end up realizing that maybe this person isn’t actually benefiting you and your life in any positive way because they really are not there for you. This is a hard lesson to learn, but a necessary one. Either way, you learn something so why not give it a shot?
It is completely normal to make mistakes and ask for clarification. I tend to find that these two things come hand in hand. We often think that if something doesn’t make sense, or we mess something up we’re not good enough. In reality, you don’t get where you’re going without asking those ‘dumb questions’ (which are never actually dumb). And to succeed, you must fail. Once again, super easy to write, yet very hard to put in practice.
Allow yourself to revel in your successes without others’ approval. If you accomplish something, be proud. Even the smallest thing. You got out of bed today? Give yourself a pat on the back! You completed that hard assignment that you had mental breakdowns over? YOU GO BOO! You took the bus today, even though it’s been a deep rooted fear of yours? Congrats! It’s important to be proud of yourself for the smallest accomplishments. You don’t need anyone to tell you that you should be proud of something. If you did something, you did something. Acknowledge that!
Last but not least, stand up for your rights. This could be combined with the first point, but I felt it was so important that it needs to stand alone. Standing up for yourself does not have to mean you are disrespecting someone else’s rights, even though that is the common afterthought. You are not being mean or rude to the other person, just acting in your best interest. You are worthy of the same rights as everybody else. Never forget that.
I’m not going to lie, I do not have the secret to not be a pushover for you or for me. In fact, as I am sitting here writing this post, I still do not have the answer. But I hope this post will motivate you as it has motivated me to better myself for myself, and not for anyone else. But remember, everything in life takes time.
By: Maja Menegotto
Williams, C. (2014). Being Assertive. British Columbia, Vancouver: Canadian Mental Health Association.