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Adding Assertiveness Into Your Life (Kicking The Passive Habit)

This class is a quick crash course in assertiveness and breaking the habit of passivity. In every single story I’ve read at BR School, there is an issue around passiveness. Quite simply, passive people end up in unhealthy relationships and being passive and submissive in situations where they should be having an active response, which will be actions and matching words and responding with something appropriate.

Assertive people communicate their needs, wishes, and expectations with respect but they also live their lives in ways that respect their own needs, wishes, and expectations.

A habit of passivity shows a fear of negative consequences for asserting yourself plus it shows a lack of self-knowledge. What happens when you’re passive, is without communicating and sometimes not even knowing what your needs, expectations and wishes are or even feeling like you deserve to have these met, you somehow still expect the results of what would happen if you were assertive.

  • You cannot expect people to know what you need etc., and who you are if you suppress who that is and you don’t make it known with the way that you conduct yourself and your life.
  • You cannot expect a relationship to meet your needs when you don’t even know what your needs are or are unwilling to assert them or even worse, are trying to get needs met in a relationship that cannot meet your needs.
  • If you don’t have and assert your boundaries, you don’t have an active response in situations that require it from you.

We tend to learn passivity in childhood. It’s a learned response to dealing with someone who was passive aggressive or aggressive. We may have been ‘rewarded’ for being compliant and assumed that it’s how the world works – we do as others expect and tell us and we’ll be rewarded with love, appreciation and all of our needs met. You get out into the big wide world and yeah some people rely on you being compliant, but many don’t plus you will have lost sight of who you are.

You may think, based on experiences such as having an abusive parent or being bullied that aggression is assertiveness, but it’s not. It’s aggression. It’s abuse. These are people getting what they want by force.

What is the point in being ‘nice’ and ‘agreeable’ and even a doormat when you hate yourself? Yep, there’s no point. How you feel is how you feel. Your needs, values, expectations are yours, and you’re responsible for them. You have to take responsibility for how you want to feel and live. This doesn’t make you responsible for other people’s behaviour but when you recognise that you have options beyond being passive and that actually, being passive is a choice albeit a passive choice but a choice nonetheless, you can assert yourself without fear of reprisals. You recognise that being you, asserting your needs etc., isn’t going to do harm to others but not doing so is going to do a lot of harm to you.

Remember, kicking the passive habit is not about making people do what you want; it’s about taking responsibility for you, standing up for you and living your life in line with who you are.

1. Work out what your values are and operate in line with these because operating in line with other people’s values is passiveness.

2. Respond with self-respect, not desperation or self-blame. When you need to respond to something that causes you discomfort, pain etc., don’t default to blaming you and people-pleasing.

3. Shift perspective – change the meaning, change the feeling. If your perspective involves you blaming you and festering in rejection, this is a passive response. Reevaluate the experience and try to see what was really going on and remove your worth out of the equation.

4. Stick to one strike for assholic, abusive, disrespectful behaviour from others especially in your romantic life or with friendships. Steer clear of anything that will put you in a Florence Nightingale role – fixing, healing, helping and trying to change people.

5. Stick to three strikes for what you feel is grey area stuff. It means they’ve had three times to show their arses which gives you more than enough reason to trust you and step away, distance yourself, take protective measures.

6. What are your opinions? You’d be surprised at the number of passive people who have no firm opinions on anything or who are like a pressure cooker waiting to erupt with opinions. Having and voicing an opinion isn’t going to hurt someone. Get involved in discussions – see if you’re feeling hurt by other people’s opinions or does the feeling pass with perspective? A lot of this fear of having an opinion is because you’re afraid of other people’s opinions. But people, including you, will have them anyway, so it’s best to have a voice otherwise you become the voice of doormats.

7. What are your feelings? Listen to how you feel from day to day and explore your range of emotions. You’ve been suppressing how you feel so that you can control how you feel and react. You suppressing your feelings has meant that you may not have ‘hurt’ others as you feared you might or even had to give them the boot of your life, but you have repeatedly silenced and hurt you by suppressing your feelings which can cause you to lose sense of your identity and even struggle to differentiate between right and wrong. You then respond to these suppressed feelings and do things that you end up regretting later because you recognise that they bust your boundaries and override your own feelings, needs, etc.

8. Ask questions when information is missing or to gain clarification. People who are passive do not ask questions for fear of reprisals and what they may hear back. “What did you mean by that?” “What did you mean when you did ________________?” “What did you mean when you said ________________?”

9. Don’t wait for someone to do what you should be doing for you. What do you want?

10. Anything that you expect from others is something you must also expect from you. This means that you are forced to be in the position of honouring your own needs, values and boundaries. You also have to have your own personal security.

11. Speak up. Take a few deep breaths and then project your voice and speak. Let your opinions and ideas be known. Challenge (respectfully) and engage in discussion. Don’t shout (unless it’s appropriate) – switching to loud can be quite unnerving and may mess with your tone which may be misinterpreted.

12. Say why with brevity. If I have to ask someone to do something or to stop doing something, I ask politely with a neutral, polite tone and if needed, say why. “Can you please move your bins? When you leave them spread out all over our area, it blocks the exit and also has my children navigating your rubbish.” Don’t do long-winded explanations – it makes you look apologetic and guilty when you have no reason to be.

13. Make eye contact. My daughter attended confidence classes when she started school, and one of her early lessons was understanding that when speaking or being spoken to that she needed to make eye contact. Not making eye contact in adults is a ‘tell’ and around people who are passive-aggressive, aggressive and even assertive, they will work out that you are scared, in doubt, or just not very confident. Some of these people will decide that you’re not to be trusted. Looking people in the eye puts meaning behind what you’re communicating.

14. Make choices – don’t be swept up. Choose what you want to do don’t just be swept up in other people’s agendas. Is it what you want? Does it meet your needs? Does it reflect your values? If not, make a different choice.

15. Don’t hold yourself hostage. If you’ve got someone who you get trapped on the phone with or trapped in their moaning and critiques, get in charge of when they get in touch with you. Let it go to voicemail and call back when you’re ready and limit the time to 10-15 minutes. Have a reason prepared in advance and as the time is approaching, start to wrap up the call. Don’t apologise and get off the call quickly. If you’re face to face, nip off to the bathroom and compose yourself, organise to be called so that if you need an exit, you can be given one, or just leave. Once a conversation takes a turn down into someone regurgitating all of the problems on you (while of course, never listening to you) or it becomes unpleasant, or you’re physically affected, it is time to end the conversation swiftly. I’ve been doing it for seven years. I slip up occasionally but honestly, it is like a weight off. I do not feel guilty about it.

 16. If you were acting in the way that you would like to or you feel that you ‘should’ but don’t, what would that be? Yep, that’s likely to be assertive responses.

17. Anything that is simmering underneath that you keep returning to must be spoken about and dealt with. Otherwise, you will erupt. This is what passive people who don’t speak up end up doing – going to the extremes at times and being aggressive and then feeling bad and reverting to being passive.

18. Don’t press The Reset button and pretend like something didn’t happen and basically let someone pick up from where they think they left off, which is normally the point before whatever it is that you want to erase. Do ask questions, do get an explanation, do expect and look for proof of remorse and change.

19. Ask for what you want. Yes, speak up. If it’s not communicated through both consistent words and action, it’s not known. Don’t be vague, be specific and do not hint. Hinting is for surprise trips not needs and wants.

20. Avoid “You made me” when tackling anything tricky. It immediately puts people on the defensive and casts you as helpless.

21. Don’t agree to stuff immediately, especially if you need to give it some more thought. “I’ll get back to you ________” and let them know when. If they get funny with you, just say “If you need a decision now, it’s best to go with someone else.” Do not say yes unless you have given it due consideration. Don’t just say yes because you’re scared to say NO. Say yes because it’s what you want to say.

22. Keep a list of Get Out Of Stuck phrases. “Let me think about that”, “Sorry I can’t make it because I’ve got a prior engagement” (you’re meeting someone even if that person is you on a quiet night in).

23. Be clear on the terms. If you’ve got someone who keeps asking you to do something that you don’t want to, be firm in your next response. “Guys, I appreciate that you’re stuck this time, but after this, you will need to find a proper babysitter. I don’t mind helping out occasionally or in an emergency, but I cannot do it every week (or whenever) or each time you ask.” or “Sorry I can’t this time, but if you need me on the weekend of the 6th next month, then I’ll put it in my diary.” This offers an alternative but also ensures that they cannot expect you between now and the date that you’ve suggested.

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