Have you ever felt that you are the doormat for the world? That everyone is demanding a piece of you and there are just no more pieces to be given? Are you desperate to ask for help but feel guilty at the thought of doing so? You are a) not alone, b) resoundingly normal and c) need to be a bit more assertive.
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, demanding or rude. It is simply having the confidence and the self respect to tell others how you feel, what you need, what you want and that you do not want to go along with something if it is not right for you. That last one is the kicker. It is saying no. Two letters, one syllable and saying it regularly can absolutely change your life for the better.
This takes practice though. A lot of us have been brought up to be yes people. We believe that we can do it all, have it all, be the fabulous multi-tasker who can get through massive lists in a single bound. Some of us might be. Most of us aren’t. We may also have been raised with the belief that we should do anything for everyone else, but neglect ourselves. We do this at our own peril. I am not saying that you should be selfish and self absorbed, not at all. But sometimes, if you know you are overwhelmed, you need to say no. “No, I can’t make it today” or “No, that really is not convenient for me” or “No, you can’t have that candy which will make you bounce of all of the walls and mean you won’t sleep for the next week and a half”. No. Practice it. Say it calmly and firmly. I promise you, it will work wonders.
According to a book I have been reading, there are 12 rules for assertiveness. I thought it would be useful to run through them and see if there are any we can apply to our own lives.
The first rule is that you have the right to have respect for yourself, who you are, what you do and what you are trying to achieve, be that raising children, becoming a high court judge, writing a novel, finishing a study project. What you are doing is not something to be shy or embarrassed about. If you have passion about it, if you want to do it, then you can be assertive about it.
Second thing to do is that you have the right to recognise your own needs as an individual. That is not what your roles are in life – I am a daughter, a friend, a wife, a housekeeper, a student, a gardener, a Christian. These roles govern my life to a large extent. This is instead about what I need to do as me. For example, I need to write, I need to create things, I need to grow things, I need to be able to prioritise my health and fitness. Understanding these needs will mean that you can be assertive about how to use your time so it is works out the best for you, and not for anyone else. If that means I get up at 6am to get to the pool to do 100 lengths, then that is what I will do, and amend the expectations of the rest of the roles in relation to this requirement.
The third rule of assertiveness is to that you have the right to make clear “I” statements when you are talking about how your feel or what you think. For example “I feel annoyed that you are out with your buddies and I am in the laundry room folding and putting away all the clothes again”, That is being assertive. “How dare you go out with your buddies again when I am slaving away doing the chores!! It’s not fair!” That is being a whiny nag. You are communicating the same frustration, but in very different ways.
The fourth rule is that you have the right to allow yourself to make mistakes. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. It is absolutely fine if you take a night off from cooking and have a microwave meal, despite being on another diet. It is okay if you get to the end of your tether and have a wee sob in the corner. Do what you have to do. Mistakes mean that you will learn what works and what doesn’t.
The fifth rule is that you have the right to change our mind if you choose to. I am not talking about that second pair of cute shoes (but hell, if you can afford it…), I am rather talking about the big stuff. I no longer want to be a housewife, I will go back to the world of work – absolutely your right. I do not want to structure my day in this way, I am going to change it so I can fit in more exercise – again, absolutely your right.
The sixth rule is that you have the right to ask for thinking about it time. If people are demanding that you do something, and that something is not what you want to do, you are perfectly within your rights to say “I would like to think that over and I will get back to you by the end of the week”. You then really need to get back to them by the end of the week, because otherwise that would be rude, but you are within your rights to say thanks but no thanks.
The seventh rule of assertiveness is that you have the right to enjoy your successes. If you are proud of yourself for something, then tell people. It is absolutely fine. When I have reached my weight loss goal, you can believe that I will be shouting from the highest rooftops and sharing with everyone I know! I also know that most of the people I know and love with be celebrating with me!
The eighth rule is that you have the right to ask for what you want. This is absolutely key. If you really need some help with keeping the garden up to scratch, then ask for the help. If you need someone to tame the laundry monster for you, then ask for the help. You must ask though, because it maybe that the people around you will not see that you need the assistance. You can’t guarantee that the people around you will know precisely what you need all the time – they aren’t mind readers.
The ninth rule of assertiveness is that you have the right to recognise that your responsibility is not for the behaviour of other adults. It is only for your own behaviour. Nor are you responsible for pleasing other adults all the time. If they are “disappointed” in you for whatever reason, then that is their problem, not yours. If they have a hard time getting library books back on time and keep incurring fines, when it is their problem not yours. I will confess, this is the hardest rule for me to keep.
The tenth rule is that you have the right (actually it is more of an obligation) to respect other people and their right to be assertive. If you do that for them, then with any luck, they will do the same for you. Life is essentially about compromise, so if you are being all assertive about your needs, remember that the other people who live with you also need to be assertive about their needs. Be prepared for some give and take.
The eleventh rule is that you have the right to say “I don’t understand”. This is particularly useful if you get a poor reaction to some of your assertiveness. Someone goes off in a huff because you have said you can’t make the girly spa afternoon, because it clashes with your children’s school play, then you need to get them to explain why they are upset. Sometimes it is just a matter of clearly explaining that the children needs to come first. In the final analysis if people are unwilling or unable to communicate in that way, then do you really need them in your life? Probably not.
Finally, the twelfth rule of assertiveness is that you have the right to deal with others without depending on them for approval. I am not going to lie; this one is tough. You obviously want your nearest and dearest to support you in your ideas and plans. But in the final analysis, the only person you need approval from is yourself. It really doesn’t matter if you haven’t got any underwear left in the drawer and it is then that you holler for help with the laundry. All the disapproving tuts in the world are not going to help matters are they? Or the house is at risk of a health inspection and that is when you call in the troops for a declutter and clean out. Yes, you let it get to that state, but that is okay. You did your best, now you need your help. Yes, I do understand how hard that is to do!
I hope you feel that these rules will be helpful to you. I have certainly picked up a couple of tips.