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Assertivenessby Shai Hayworth
WITH ALL THE PRESSURES we face in our daily lives some of the worst ones are placed upon us by ourselves – and most of the time we don’t even realise it.
If you think of the types of things we undertake in a day:
• Getting the kids ready for school and extra curricular activities
• Preparing for an important business meeting
• Running errands for parents and in-laws
• Dealing with an awkward customer
• Helping friends out with their problems
• Organising dinner and other household chores
• Creating a warm and loving environment for you and your partner.
What is the key theme that runs through all these activities? – the desire to make others happy.
Whilst this is something we all strive to do and want to ensure that what we do pleases everyone, you should take the time to reflect and ask yourself – at what cost? Where is the you time?
It is common for us to have a natural tendency to put others first but we do not realise what we sacrifice of ourselves to do this.
Often we find ourselves putting on weight because we cook and eat what the family will like and if we are preparing it for them, then we may as well eat it ourselves. (How many times have you found yourself eating dessert because you have made some for the kids?) And sometimes during the day we are so busy that it is easier just to grab something quick like fast food because there is so much we want to get done. We also find we do not have time (or make time) to exercise as there is always somewhere to take the kids, or errands to run, so our health starts to suffer or, in the worse case, fail.
Another common sacrifice is catching up with friends. Often friendships between women tend to lapse as family and work put more and more pressure on our time. Friendship, we all know, is important to our mental and emotional wellbeing – sometimes this is in the form of sharing things which are bugging us, a ‘letting off steam’ opportunity, a time to chat and have fun with other grown up women.
Our partners often have a hobby or leisure interest outside of the home but do we?
Stress and blood pressure tend to increase as we take on the logistics of running a household (bills, chores, schooling, shopping). We need to bear in mind though that it is not the fault of our partner or kids but ours, as we volunteer (normally without discussion) to take on this role in the house and more often than not tend to get upset when someone else tries to help us out.
Think for a moment if you have ever chastised your partner for doing the dishes/ washing/shopping the wrong way – when all they were trying to do was lend a hand.
All this leads into a spiral of poor habits which can put both our mental and physical wellbeing in jeopardy.
Ok, so you can probably relate to some of these scenarios and realise that you undertake this behaviour, but how can you try and change without making everyone get upset and dislike you?
Work out what it is to be yourself
Before we can start to discover what causes us stress and upset we must first realise that generally this upset is caused by a disconnection in what we actually want to be doing. ie our wants and needs are not being met or worse ignored!
So let’s take a step back and genuinely ask yourself what does it mean to be you? What do you value, what do you love to do, what have you compromised in your life and what are the key things that you no longer choose to compromise?
As we go through the different stages of our lives we will find that these things might change. For example, when we were younger going out and catching up with our friends was important, then our partners become more important and spending time with them was paramount, so it is important that we regularly reflect on what it is that we value.
Work out your five most important things and make them your priorities, the areas where you will focus your attention.
Have the courage to say no to other things which may come along and interfere with these priorities.
For example if eating healthily is a priority and you are at a friend’s birthday where you are being asked to eat the cake to celebrate, politely (but not apologetically) with a smile say no thank you. Friends and family should not get offended if you decline in a pleasant manner. If someone does get upset, is it really your fault that they want you to sabotage the achievement of your priorities or is it their fault for trying to force you to do something which you have made pleasantly clear you do not want to?
So what can we do to help ourselves?
- Take Time to Pause
One very useful and important behaviour to learn is to take time to pause.
What does this mean?
Well every time we go to do something take a second to pause and ask yourself – why am I really doing this? Just acknowledging the real reason we are doing something then allows us to consider the choices which we have. For example if we are busy at home tidying the kids rooms (and probably getting worked up about it because they haven’t done it), take a moment to pause and ask yourself why am I doing this, would I rather be spending my half hour taking a walk around the block? You then have the choice to say, “I am doing this because I want to“ and continue cleaning, or, “No. I think I would prefer to get out in the air and have a little exercise and less stress – the kids can clean it later”.
After trying this technique a couple of times you will find yourself feeling much more empowered and in control – you are doing things because you want. You will also find that this thinking will soon become habit.
Most problems which cause us to be upset tend to occur when we feel like we have no choice or have not been included in the decision – that is we feel like we must do this.
Between every interaction or stimulus there is time to pause before you respond. This technique also helps us think from the other person’s point of view. Often when we start to feel put upon or taken for granted we actually become the one thing we do not want to be – selfish! We lose all ability to see another’s point of view or the reason why they may be reacting in that way.
Talking to your family and keeping them involved in what is going on is very important. One thing we do not tend to realise is that if we take control of everything in the house (bill paying etc.) then we are actually guilty of robbing others of input and control.
If you are in a conversation and are finding yourself being on the defensive – ask yourself why. Are they really meaning to insult you by commenting that there is nothing in the fridge (which we sometimes turn into – Gee you are not very good at doing the shopping and keeping things stocked up) or are they just making an observation. Most times your family actually does not mean to offend – most times they don’t even know they are doing it.
Ask for help, if you cannot fit everything in or achieve what needs to be done ask your partner or kids to help you. This does not make you any less of a person, it just makes you real and human and warm.
- Assertiveness/Self confidence
One of the biggest challenges women have historically faced is working out how to put their viewpoints forward without upsetting others. Assertiveness is a huge skill and many books have been written on various techniques which are worth a read, however going into all those is a whole other article.
In a nutshell, assertiveness is all about letting others know your boundaries – what you like and dislike – in a positive way, and most importantly staying away from negative things like putdowns, swearing and insults.
One simple technique known as ‘natural assertiveness’ is a great place to start.
For example consider these two sentences:
• Billy, how many times have I told you to clean up your mess, are you deaf or just stupid?
• Billy, I need you to clean up the mess in the lounge as it could be dangerous and get broken if someone trips over it.
Both are asking for the same thing yet one is probably going to be better received by Billy. Whilst the first one may get Billy to clean up the mess he will probably do so grudgingly and bitterly thus possibly leading to other conflicts later in the day. In some children the second sentence may initially not get the immediate results hoped for, this may be due to fact that they are waiting for ‘negative’ or threatening request but this in itself is a habit we want to break as it too starts to form poor social interactions.
If Billy did not comply with the second style of sentence then a good approach would be to go to Billy and when face to face explain in a steady and even voice (as tone of voice and body language are also important to keep under control) that it upsets and disappoints you when he does not do as you ask. Then ask him why he wants to make you upset?
This may lead you into a very insightful and important conversation which you need to have and actively listen to!
The three key components of ‘natural assertion’ are:
1. Making your intention or desire clear
2. Providing a reason for your request so the person receiving the request can understand why it needs to be done or how it makes you feel when it is not done
3. Showing respect to the receiver
In most cases other people are much like ourselves and want to please others and so because you have treated them with respect, will be inclined to do as you ask.
- Take time out
Talk to your family, tell them how you feel (remember your feelings and thoughts are just as valid as everyone else in the house) and let them know what you are going to do to address this problem. For example let them know that you will be setting aside say half an hour each day which is just for you, ask for no interruptions even if you are still in the house. You will be probably be amazed how much they want to help you out too – it is in their best interest also to have a happy household and healthy family.
Then during this time take a bath, call a friend, play with the dog/kids, read a book/magazine, exercise, do some art or whatever you want but just commit yourself and your mind to your time.
Before you embark on your time mentally place all your problems in a locker which you will open at the end of your time.
During this time do not think about what needs to be done once you get out of the bath/finish your walk. If a thought does pop in, acknowledge it and then say I will deal with you at the end of my time (hard to do I know – but trust me once you have practised this you will begin to feel more relaxed.)
- Take time to laugh and have fun with your family
In today’s busy life we find that it is not just us who lose sight of what it is to have fun. Often our partners are stressed from work pressures, the kids have school problems. Laughter is a great stress reliever and releases beneficial chemicals into the body. As we get older we tend to forget what it is to have fun or play. Go out and rediscover what it is to enjoy life.
- Don’t take on other people’s problems
Sometimes people get in bad moods. Firstly it is not your fault so don’t make it so, and secondly it is not your job to snap them out of it. The best thing you can do is read the signs, accept that it is not your fault (actually say that to yourself – reaffirm) and give them some space to work through it.
If for some reason you need something from them use a tactful approach such as “I can see that you are a little upset/mad at the moment and I don’t want to unduly add to your problems but I really need you to xyz…”.
- Stop and appreciate the good things you have
This is probably the most important thing of all. Grab a pen and paper and take time to sit and reflect about all the things in your life which you are grateful and happy about.
Generally these will be the ‘big things’ – love of a partner, great family, healthy kids, living in WA etc.… which serves to remind us – don’t sweat the small stuff (timetables, appointments, housework) as these things generally have a way of taking care of themselves.
Much like Da Vinci created the Renaissance Man; society (and ourselves) today place pressure for us all to be Renaissance Women (mother, wife, friend, domestic engineer, career woman, student, goddess and lover) the challenge for us all is which part of that we choose to want to be and how to balance them.
The one thing which you must also not lose sight of is that your family will probably surprise you in the amount of support that they will give you in making this change, especially when you might think the reason you are wanting to make this change is that you are feeling as though you are being taken for granted.
One final thought, whatever you do or what small amount of change you want to make – you are the one who needs to commit to it and make it happen, no one else can do it for you, others can support you but you need to give them a reason to.
YOU ARE THE ARCHITECT OF YOU – GO FORTH AND FLOURISH!
Flourishnote: Can you relate to this article at all? Have you had a 'lightbulb moment' that changed your perspective? If you have any tips to share with other flourish readers, please comment below.
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