Just before I clicked “publish” to post “The Benefits of Assertiveness Part I,” I knew I was going to write a follow-up. That’s when I edited the title, adding “Part I”. I realized that the encouragement to go for it with assertiveness could be paralyzing for some. Often the parts in us that seem to be in hiding are not simply going to emerge with gusto just because we’ve read an inspiring article. I know, I’ve been there. I’ll read something that makes life change seem so simple. Broken down into tidy steps: 1, 2 ,3. I see myself taking the steps and voila! the problem is gone. When I actually attempt to make the change…well…it sure doesn’t resemble anything that would be preceded by “voila!”
The journey toward emotional health rarely follows a straight line upward and to the right. It looks a lot more like a zig zag going up and down, all over the board, yet still revealing a general trend heading gently upward and toward the right. It can be challenging to notice that our movement isn’t always consistently going in the direction we want it to, but that’s reality for most of us. We are flawed, imperfect beings. We are inconsistent by nature. The goal in our growth cannot be perfection. Not only is perfection discouraging, it simply isn’t possible. When we set the bar so high that we can never reach it, we tend to find ourselves stagnated by discouragement. Ever been there?
If being assertive is a challenge for you, I hope that you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Sometimes it helps just to be aware of that. “Oh, so this part of me that doesn’t work the way I want it to is something other people deal with, too?” Yes! You might even be surprised if you could hear the very real and honest thoughts of those around you. Thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, thinking they are too much or not enough just to name a few. Acknowledge what you are dealing with and how you feel about it.
Notice that part of you when it shows up. In my example with assertiveness, I started being aware of it. I would notice what it felt like when I had something to say, but held it in or chose to be inactive instead of acting on something. I asked myself what was holding me back. In most cases it was rooted in a long-held belief that I have to be liked. I thought people only liked those who were always amenable. There is another root for me and that one is perfectionism. If I attempt something and it’s not perfect, I believe I will not be accepted. The work on those two pieces actually required therapy. Yes, even therapists need a therapist. In fact, I believe a good therapist has participated in therapy and continues to work on her stuff! You may need to work with a therapist, too. If you continually find yourself stuck, desperately wanting to change but never seeing any results, I recommend you find a good therapist.
Once you’ve identified the why behind not being assertive ask yourself the risks involved with changing. For me, the risk of being assertive meant not everyone will like me and I might not execute things with perfection. I grew to be ok with that. As I let go of my desire to be liked by everyone (which is just not possible, anyway) and my perfectionism, I began taking steps toward expressing my assertiveness. It’s not always neat and tidy. I stumble along the way, but I’m moving. I like to think of working on our undeveloped parts being like a baby learning to walk. Have you ever witnessed this feat? They never go from laying on the ground to walking. NEVER! They first have to develop the muscles necessary to get themselves up on all fours, gradually moving to pulling themselves up to standing. When they finally take that first step it is wobbly. They typically fall, a lot! Oh, and they never go from first steps to running with ease overnight. It takes years to graduate to smooth running.
I like to keep this in mind any time I am changing a behavior or developing a new way of relating to myself and those around me. We can be so hard on ourselves when we don’t see immediate change. Just accept that it isn’t possible, be gentle with yourself as you travel down the road of emotional growth. It takes time, it is messy, inconsistent and so worth it!