January 21, 2008 7:17 AM Subscribe
Armchair psychologists and lifehackers: Please help me develop some basic assertiveness skills.
posted by justonegirl to human relations (24 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
(My apologies in advance for the length of this; it just has been eating at me for so long and I want to provide all the information needed to answer my question.)
I seem to have a very difficult time asserting myself in many situations, and it’s causing me a lot of distress. I have always taken great pains to ever avoid embarrassing someone, putting them on the spot, hurting their feelings, or making them feel defensive. This causes me to not say anything when something bothers me and to ignore situations that clearly need to be addressed. The stress I feel while trying to spare others any bad feelings is really eating at me, and I’d like to learn what should probably be a very basic skill of adulthood.
Background: I’m 32, married with a toddler son, and run a company with my husband. I’m a little shy sometimes, but not a timid person by any means – I have no problem leading meetings or speaking in front of groups, for example.
I was raised an only child by a father who was pretty reserved and unemotional, and a mother who was chronically depressed and extremely hypersensitive. I made her cry on numerous occasions, during what I now think were normal parent-child disagreements. My mom is bothered by lots of things, but rarely if ever addresses it with the person with whom she has a problem, a classic martyr. She also used to rant and rave about how much she hated passive-aggressive people (ironic, huh?) and scoffed at anyone’s attempts to “nicely” bring up a problem.
Also, we moved frequently due to my dad’s work, and I had a very hard time making friends. And like many young women (maybe guys do this too, I don’t know), I lost many “best friends” over my childhood/teenage years due to stupid disagreements. All of this led to some deep-seated self esteem issues on my part, and a fear of not being liked.
All of this has probably contributed to my current incapacity to tell someone (in a polite way) when I’m upset about something they’ve done. I recognize the problem, but I can’t seem to do the obvious thing (duh): tell someone (in a polite way) when I’m upset about something they’ve done. Instead I seethe and stress out and harbor resentment, all while forcing a smile and trying to just go about my business. This makes me feel like a gigantic failure as a person. I know I just need to get a grip, that the world won’t end if someone doesn’t like being called out, but I guess I’m just really afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, embarrassing them, or having them walk out on me.
This is embarrassing, but here are a few recent examples of situations I’ve been unable to address:
1. Our regular nanny is late almost every day, sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes 20. My husband and I really need to start our work ASAP in the morning, but we can’t count on her being on time. Yet I can’t seem to bring it up to our nanny because I don’t want there to be awkwardness, and I don’t want her to decide she’d rather work elsewhere, because it was really hard to find someone good.
2. My best friend has been kind of distant lately, taking a really long time to return calls. I called her a few days before my birthday (Christmas Eve) asking if there was a time I could bring over Christmas gifts for her family, and she didn’t call me back until mid-afternoon on my birthday itself. I was really anxious about it and it hurt my feelings. Yet I didn’t say anything because I don’t want her to be angry at me.
3. A babysitter we had over here yesterday spent a good part of the day gossiping on her cell phone rather than interacting with our son. He was whining and clearly demanding her attention, but she was just yapping away. Eventually I did just send her home, but I should have been able to work up the nerve way earlier instead of being angry all day. I felt tremendously guilty later that my little boy had a bad day due to this person’s inattentiveness.
4. The company my husband and I own is basically a subcontractor agency, and most of the subcontractors are friends of my husband’s. I have a difficult time bringing up performance issues or pointing out to them when they’re falling short of our standards, and I imagine it’s because I don’t want them not to like me and I don’t want social occasions to be weird.
If you have any suggestions on how to confidently and politely assert oneself in these types of situations, I would really appreciate it. If you’ve gone through something similar but were able to make a positive change, even better. I just ask that any responses be a little more detailed than “Just say what’s on your mind,” because if I knew how to do that, I would. I’m not stupid; I’m paralyzed by a bunch of psychological crap that I don’t know how to get past. Thanks so much.