When I was in elementary and middle school, I was not remotely assertive. I had a horrible group of manipulative friends. They told me off just for the fun of it and were downright mean. I was shy and insecure and for a very long time I just took it. Eventually, I began to mimick them and I remember one day telling the one girl off because she was being obnoxious, but it wasn’t me being assertive. It was just me being mean, and while I gained the respect of a few for having done so, it didn’t feel good.
In junior high, I had a new “best friend” but she was just as manipulative as the girls from elementary school. She always had to be the center of attention, would do stupid things to gain that limelight, and she frequently betrayed my trust. By the time 9th grade rolled around, I was done. We were on a band trip in Virginia and coming back on a charter bus after having been on some tour. She was staring up at the reading light pretending to be tripping on drugs. It was ridiculous, but people do a lot of ridiculous things in 9th grade. When we arrived back at our motel, I didn’t wait for her before getting off the bus. She eventually caught up to me and asked what was wrong. I cooly told her nothing was wrong. She asked why I was mad at her. I, again cooly, said I wasn’t. She continued asking me these questions, and when we got up to the room we were sharing, she once more asked why I was mad at her. I told her I wasn’t mad at her, but that I didn’t want to be friends with her anymore. I spent the next five minutes telling her I was sick of her mistreating me, that I didn’t deserve it, and that I didn’t want anything to do with her anymore. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I stood up for myself for quite possibly the first time ever. That was me being assertive.
After that, asserting myself became easier, but it feels like somewhere along the line, there was a break. I hadn’t realized it happening, but I began noticing it when guys would ask for my phone number, and though I didn’t want to give it to them, I would. I notice it much more now when dealing with my parents. I hadn’t realized my difficulty with them as a lack of assertiveness, but I just started reading a book for one of my classes that has helped me to identify it as such. The book is called “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” (Smith, 1975). At the very beginning of the book, the author lists what he terms “A Bill of Assertive Rights.” They are as follows:
I. You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
II. You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior
III. You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.
IV. You have the right to change your mind
V. You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them
VI. You have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
VII. You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them
VIII. You have the right to be illogical in making decisions
IX. You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
X. You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”
You have the right to say no, without feeling guilty.
As I was reading through them, I was struck by numbers II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and X, particularly concerning my parents. They have continually warned me throughout my life of others manipulating me, and yet, after looking through these and reading the first 30 pages of this book, that is exactly how they treat me. I was so relieved when I read, “If parents…want something, they have the power to make their grown sons and daughters feel like anxious little children” (p. 3). Ahh!! Other people deal with this, too!?! Other people’s parents treat them like mine treat me!? And when I say this, I come from a place of sincere ignorance and gratitude of realizing how not alone I am in this. I have always felt the need to explain and justify my decisions to my parents and have always felt small in some measure when I feel unable to do so, when I cannot communicate and know that they understand what I am saying. Now, I realize that I don’t have to! What an amazingly fabulous feeling!
As this year comes to a close with Samhain being only 8 days away, I know that this is something I sincerely want to work on for the coming year. I want to find that elemental balance of being able to calmly and clearly stand up for and assert myself.