Do you struggle with assertive communication?
After my suicide attempt five weeks ago I have been in St. John of God Clinic in Burwood. They specialise in PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder and Depression. All of these apply to me so I have been working on all conditions since being here.
One of the groups I attended was on Communication and how we communicate. We were taught about assertive communication as it was identified as one of the most important skills to develop when you have been abused either sexually, emotionally, domestic violence or other trauma.
If you struggle with assertive communication and have PTSD or some other form of trauma I’m not surprised. When you have been abused your self-esteem takes a huge battering. You may not have been able to say no when the trauma happened to you whether you were a child or an adult. It is hard to say no when things are out of control.
Assertiveness is speaking with intention and letting others know what you’re thinking in the moment is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. Especially when you care about others’ feelings.
In fact, I’ve found it to be an incredibly normal obstacle for a lot of us. The struggle with assertive communication might be a lifelong one for you, but there is hope. I’ve worked with this issue a lot, and I’ve come up with seven clear signs that you might be in this camp in the five weeks I have been in the Clinic, as well as a few pointers to help you out.
1. You avoid confrontation
In fact, you avoid confrontation so well, you do it better than some politicians dodge questions. For you, a root canal seems more enjoyable than enduring a confrontation. We’re talking knots in your stomach, sweaty palms, and your mind racing a million miles per minute on all the possible ways this conversation could go horribly, horribly wrong. But confrontation isn’t necessarily negative. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be uncomfortable. Timing, attitude, and motives will be pretty impactful, and can make for a smooth process. It’s all about knowing how you feel, communicating it calmly, and listening to the other person.
2. Saying “no” feels like the equivalent to swearing.
Please! You’d rather make an excuse than offend someone any day of the week. For you, it’s easier to just hope that the people in your life will pick up on the subtle clues you give, or for you to dodge certain conversations rather than to have to flat out say NO.
But avoiding offering your true opinions tasks others with being mindreaders and that’s exceptionally unfair. For starters, there’s a major chance they could get things totally wrong. And even if they do pick up on it, they know they won’t receive any pushback from you, so what’s to keep them from accommodating you anyhow?
A change in perception, though, can make a world of difference here. For example, if you’re more inclined to be hurt by a “no” because you interpret it as a rejection or disapproval, you’ll more than likely believe others view a “no” in the same way. You’re projecting. Ultimately, if you stop associating the word “no” with rejection, then the more open you will be to accepting the word “no” for what it actually means. Make nice with the word, and you’ll be much better off when you have to deliver it
3. You’re Turned Off By Strong Opinions
When you come across someone who clearly and confidently addresses a matter, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but they rub you the wrong way. If we’re being honest, it’s probably a combination of shock and envy. Shock because they’re able to so easily do what you struggle to do, and envy…well, because they so easily do what you struggle to do. But there’s always room for growth! Instead of deciding these people annoy you, let them inspire you. Take notes of the behaviours you like and try them on for size. Admire the fact that they can set boundaries. The people around us are the ones who influence us the most, so use it to your advantage.
4. You’re Turned Off By Honesty
You may not want to admit it, but most of the time, you’re either pissed off or annoyed when someone close to you brings an issue to your attention. And it’s mostly because they beat you to it.
“How rude!” you think to yourself. Here you are, keeping things bottled up at the risk of hurting THEIR feelings or coming off as needy, and they have the audacity to call to your attention something that they want or need?!?! What do they think this is?!? A healthy way to dialogue??
This will probably sound very simple, but it may be worth noting: It’s okay for someone you care about to address something that’s been bothering them, even when something you’ve said or done has played a role in it.
I also want to mention that it’s also okay for you to do the same.
It’s never okay, however, for this to be done out of spite or in a disrespectful way. So don’t brew on things forever, or do anyone any favors by allowing a serious concern to go unaddressed. Pick your battles and be conscious of timing.
5. You Let Too Much Time Pass Before You’re Honest
If you do find yourself expressing your thoughts and opinions, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve reached your boiling point. Practice makes perfect, and since this is not your area of expertise, chances are you’re going to look like a kindergartener on the first day of school: 90% emotion and 10% intelligible speech.
Whatever comes up, will come out. And it’s not a pretty picture.
It’s best to avoid big conversations when your emotions are running high. In times like these, you’re more likely to say or do something you don’t mean and possibly regret. Get used to speaking your mind earlier so things haven’t built up. You’ll find it much easier to stay cool, calm, and collected during those uncomfy moments if you do.
6. You and worry are on a first name basis.
It’s the worst! You feel guilt for needing to say something that needs to be said, but know you’ll feel miserable if you don’t. You then fret about how your words will be perceived by the person you’re talking to as much – if not more – than the actual words you’ll use.
This is a pretty sharp double-edged sword, and neither plausible outcome is desirable. Again, this has a lot to do with perception. If you feel more stress and anxiety going INTO the discussion, there’s a good chance you’re already predicting how things will go, and I’m guessing those outcomes aren’t positive. It’s true that we can’t always be 100% sure of anything in the future, but it’s good practice to have a positive attitude and outlook as we approach life.
7. One of your life goals is to “keep the peace” by any means necessary.
No matter how big or small the confrontation may seem, they all elicit similar reactions in you: fear, worry, and guilt.
And though none of those are favourable, they all seem better to live with than the “unknown” should you face the conflict head on, so you suck it up and push through. You’re suffering your own mental health for the sake of others. This is no fun and no way to live, and fortunately, there’s a better option…
The truth is, many of us weren’t taught how to assert ourselves.
Perhaps you learned it was more appropriate to sweep things under the rug as to avoid coming off as rude, confrontational, needy, or demanding. I know early on, I was often reminded to treat others the way that I wanted to be treated; but there wasn’t any follow up on how to handle a situation in which a person didn’t carry out their end of that deal. In fact I assumed everyone had been taught that “golden rule,” and that if they weren’t adhering to it, it must then be personal.
Moreover, if I spoke up and nothing changed…then what?
It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned not everyone practices that rule, and that even if they did, not everyone WANTS to be treated in the same way. There is always room for discrepancy. But *this* is where authentic and transparent communication comes in.
We each owe it to ourselves to decide and then depict what respect looks, feels, and sounds like for us.
…In all settings. Work, at home, in our relationships – none of them are off limits. It’s also our responsibility to treat ourselves accordingly, and make these expectations known to others. For the most part, people will treat you the way you treat yourself, but there will of course be some who stray from that path, and need some loving and firm redirection. It may be uncomfortable at first, but with practice it will get easier. Remember to provide a space for the people in your life to establish their own criteria, and discuss them in a safe space.
Stay open, be flexible, and keep communicating. You’ve got this.