Now it is time to learn how to promote assertiveness. The interesting thing about assertiveness is its effect on one another. More the number of assertive people around you better your life becomes; higher the level of your assertiveness in you happier people around you are. However initially, as with any change in life, you and people around you might feel a bit uneasy for a while.
There are three ways to promote assertiveness. The least desired way is to be trained/ coached by a qualified therapist (check if the therapist himself/ herself is assertive, passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive first! How can one teach assertiveness without having the skill?), which is called Assertiveness Training.
The better way to promote assertiveness is to train by yourself! There are few things you need to do in order to be able to train yourself in assertiveness. First relearn what assertiveness is. Read the past posts on assertiveness, aggression, passiveness and passive-aggression. Discuss the contents with yourself and other people you know.
Then start spotting assertiveness in your daily life. This would not be easy initially. Don’t worry, keep trying. Re-read the columns again, if needed. Start detecting instances where you were assertive in your life. Usually you would start detecting instances where you were not very assertive in the first place. This is good. This is learning. Try to recap instances where you were passive today; instances where you were aggressive today; where you were passive-aggressive today. Not easy – Keep trying.
You would start to feel a slight (or in some instance an overwhelming) shame as you start detecting your lapses. This is a very convincing sign that you are doing well; actually very well. You are on the right track!
For an example your boss said this morning “All women are stupid, aren’t they Damien?” You hate his sexism and these poor-taste jokes. But you did not have enough guts to say what you thought and you just laughed with him, approving his rash comment. Now remembering this you would feel ashamed and guilty. You would be embarrassed to look at your wife’s face when you return home. You would be embarrassed to talk to women in your team at office. Now this is a healthy embarrassment; a good ‘shame’; a divine guilt.
Now start planning how to assert yourself in a similar situation in the future. This would take lot of time initially. Think; plan; re-think; dump plans and re-plan. Talk to others if you think that is a good idea.
Let us say you came up with this suggestion: Next time my boss makes such a sexist comment degrading women, I would say nothing, but I would not smile at all; If I start feeling uncomfortable I would start fiddling with my mobile phone as if I have received a call. Now run this scenario in your mind and practice it. Rehearse it. If you wanted to be even more advanced and make a retaliating or neutralising comment, write that comment on a piece of paper and practice role playing it in front of a mirror.
Do not be disheartened: Next time, too, you would give your same old despairing response. But this time you would feel lot of shame and guilt. And you would feel angry this time. Not with your boss – not necessarily; but with yourself, for not being able to do what you really wanted to do. Now make a firm pledge to do it next time; and do more rehearsing.
The first day you do it , celebrate it! You are changing your ways!! Only few people try this!!!
Although the biggest challenge is over, there is another uphill task now. There will be nasty responses from your boss; or the ones who are under his thumb. Go home and do the thinking-planning-practicing sequence again to face them next time. You will have the last laugh –at least 8 out of 10 times!
The best way to promote assertiveness in our society is to give it to the next generation of this country: the children. Children are born with assertiveness, as it is a natural product of evolution. What really happens is that we, adults, kill the assertiveness in children, which, sometimes erroneously, we call ‘disciplining’.
For children to sharpen their assertiveness they need to make decisions, express these decisions/ choices and face consequences: positive or negative. When a two-year old expresses desire to eat on his own, promote it. When he wants to touch a warm cup, let him do that. Not only that he would learn to eat on his own one day and remember that cups with steaming fluid in it are usually very hot, he would be more assertive.
Unfortunately nowadays the teachers/ parents/ child guidance counsellors generally behave in ways that demote assertiveness and promote passiveness/ aggression/ passive-aggression in children. Then they complain that children these days are violent/ ill-behaved/ have no backbone/ too shy and so on.
It is not really necessary to go out of your way to promote assertiveness in your child, unless to remove a real barrier to development of assertiveness in the child. For an example to address the issue of a particular nasty teacher at school who continually harasses the child, the teacher who announces a list of weakness/ wrongdoings in front of other children/ parents at teacher-parent meetings; or to change the behaviour of the alcoholic father who creates a fear-laden atmosphere when he comes home at evening; or to attend to the ill-tempered mother who frequently punishes her child inflicting damaging physical and/ or psychological pain, you might have to taker concerted sustained efforts with the help of multiple parties.
What is really and mostly and essentially and always necessary is to STOP KILLING ASSERTIVENESS IN CHILDREN. Unless they express a desire to take an obviously damaging decision, for an example a five-year old decides to take his football and play on the sidewalk of the busy street, do not say ‘no’! Let them try out new things; let them make mistakes; let them learn. Unless the lesson is, most likely, going to inflict severe damage, do not intervene.
Then one may ask the question: If we are not supposed to say ‘no’ most of the time, and we are not supposed to punish them inflicting pain – physical nor psychological, how are we going to bring up our children? No disciplining at all?
The answer to above question is a clearly proven one: Replace ‘disciplining’ with ‘behaviour modification’. Learn the super-effective simple techniques of changing behaviours and creating new behaviours in children. For an example the technique of ‘rewarding’. On a later day, we would discuss this topic.
Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya
Dr. Rajasuriya is at present a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo as well as a Consultant Psychiatrist at the University Psychiatry Unit, Ward 59, National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Colombo.