I’m not super proud of it, and my intention (oh, the road to hell…) was to play catch up this past weekend. But then it sort of felt like I got dumped on all at once. This isn’t a post of me whining (okay, it’s a little bit that), but rather a post about what happened when I started standing up for myself about 10 months ago.
Throughout my life I have been a somewhat passive person. I’m not usually the alpha or the leader in a group – often I take the role of second or third in command. I want to make people happy. I try to please people, and sometimes the end result is not pleasing anyone and then feeling terribly guilty.
I think some people sense that passivity/desire to please and, I would argue unconsciously, decide to exploit it. I noticed about a year ago that I was consistently treated differently from those who called people out when they were being spoken to or behaved towards unkindly or unfairly – I felt walked on, as though it was presumed I would do what others wanted. When I began to recognize this tendency, I decided it needed to change.
I left my now-ex-husband. I began to tell people what they were saying was not okay. Though it sometimes took me longer than it should have, I would get myself out of toxic/uncomfortable situations. At first I was utterly unskillful about it, I’ll admit, but slowly I feel like I’ve gotten better at it. That being said, the whole thing has been remarkably difficult.
Being assertive is really, really hard – particularly when you are attempting to cultivate said assertion. So below are my thoughts – call them tips, warnings, anecdotes, whatever you like.
- The movies are wrong – You know how in heartwarming family dramas the kid who gets picked on in school stands up to the bully once and then all of a sudden everyone respects her or him and there’s like, a parade or something and victorious music? Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Often standing up for yourself is kind of anti-climactic, really.
- It won’t happen immediately – My father, who went through a similar process when he was around my age, said it took almost 2 years for the people in his life to start treating him differently. While one anecdote isn’t science by any means, from my experience insofar, that seems like an accurate timeline.
- You will probably lose a friend or two – This part is going to hurt like hell, but it is a distinct possibility. Then again, if someone is not okay with you wanting to be treated like not-a-doormat, why keep them around?
- You will back-slide – It’s okay. Learning to be assertive when you haven’t been in a really long time is a painful process. You’re forming new habits and it’s impossible to always be 100% on top of everything. Forgive yourself and keep on keeping on.
- There is no such thing as “getting a break” – You’ve got to keep doing it over and over and over and over and over again. And if you take a break you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. YAY.
- As it turns out, feelings make you tired – Like, really tired. Who knew? When I’ve had a day of having to re-assert myself, I usually wind up going to bed at least an hour earlier than normal.
- Be wary of mixing up “assertive” and “selfish” – Be careful to not go around telling everyone “I’m just being assertive” and then be a jerk to them. It’s a fine balance, that of standing up for one’s self and being kind. Make yourself clear without pummeling someone with your feelings. Make sure your feelings aren’t reactionary before you express them. Don’t use your new-found respect for yourself as an excuse to punish others for past wrongs.
- The first victory is going to feel amazing – All of the above is probably not super encouraging, but the first time you stand up for yourself and it goes smoothly and no one feels weird or slighted, you’re going to feel great. It will get you through the days where you have the distinct feeling that you’re slogging through molasses. Promise.
Good luck, assertive little butterflies!
Image: Dustin Bones
Margaret Bashaar’s poetry has been collected in 2 chapbooks – Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009) as well as in many literary journals and anthologies. She edits the chapbook micropress Hyacinth Girl Press, attempts to repair antique typewriters, and spends far too much time on airplanes. She’s only been suspected of being possessed once and hopes to someday become a rogue taxidermist. Follow her on Twitter @myhyacinthgirl