Tag Archives: assertiveness

It’s a Ducking Habit

 

duck

Tish shines when she’s with her friends and coworkers, but around her boss she loses that shine.

“I go small the minute I step into her office!” she said. “I’m just like someone who’s been physically abused—I duck!”

Tish’s boss and her parents have some things in common.  Her parents didn’t invite or make it safe for her to express her views. It appears her boss is the same way.

Tish grew up in a home where working through problems—talking things over—just wasn’t done. Instead, powder-keg overreactions were the norm. Tish found shelter in laying low . . . or by ‘ducking.’ It became her coping mechanism.

Ducking can be more than a physical response. It can also be a psychological one. Whenever we walk on eggshells or cater to someone’s moods, we’re ducking. When we’re anxious about someone’s reaction and it causes us to stifle ourselves, we’re ducking. Keeping our mouth shut when something ought to be said is a form of ducking.

Being direct, honest and straightforward can seem just too risky and threatening. But the alternative doesn’t serve us very well, either.  When we make a habit of ducking, we desert ourselves. Our true self gets buried. Call it a recipe for life dissatisfaction and depression.

For example, ducking is hurting Tish’s chances of moving up in the company. It inhibits her from getting her needs met and her concerns heard and resolved.

By ducking, she’s guaranteeing she won’t be listened to.

Ducking behaviors served Tish as a child. They protected her. But today, such behaviors are a mere habit—a conditioned response—and do more harm than good.  She can change, and she must, if she wants to cultivate a better scenario for herself at work and elsewhere.

I explained that the first step is to realize that there are people out there who welcome open dialogue. They don’t mind being disagreed with, and they don’t blow up or make people walk on eggshells. They care about the points of view of others, and they respect the fact that problems will crop up.

“And they look forward to jointly resolving them with you,” I said.

The next step is to stand tall. “Be the strong person you really are, Tish!”

It’s in her. She listed off plenty of examples of being her bold and bigger self. In fact, when Tish isn’t ducking, her strength, wisdom and drive are forces to be reckoned with!

Her boss needed to see that. As it was, Tish was selling herself as a pushover. Her boss couldn’t respect her because Tish wasn’t respecting herself.

Shortly after that session, Tish told me how she successfully confronted her boss about a problem—one that her boss had been refusing to address for a long time. It’s getting resolved.

Yes!

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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Cool, Calm, Gutsy Courage

stoplight

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  Emerson

Imagine being in your car at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. It seems forever . . . and your mind drifts. In other words, you’ve stopped paying attention, but the driver behind you hasn’t. The instant the light changes, he or she lays on the horn.

I’ve been the day-dreamer in that scenario on multiple occasions, and—admittedly—I’ve been the horn-honker, too. But sometimes I’m the passenger . . . a mere innocent bystander. That was the situation a few months ago. My friend Lana and I were engrossed in conversation when the light changed, and guess what? Yep, it happened.

Lana didn’t waste a millisecond—she obeyed. Bearing down on the accelerator, we were in full motion in no time.

“Now, if my grandmother had been driving,” she said, “we would still be waiting back there at the light.” Lana recalled an incident that took place when she was nine or ten.  She was riding in the car with her grandmother. They were at a stoplight and when it changed her grandmother apparently wasn’t responding fast enough for the driver behind them. He communicated this very effectively with his horn. Lana’s grandmother didn’t budge.

“We just sat there,” Lana said.

Lana was mystified, and after a few seconds had elapsed, she finally asked: “Grandma, what are you doing? “Unfazed, her grandmother simply replied, “I’m helping the person behind me learn patience, sweetie.”

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Love’s Magic

love (2)

The heart is a weapon of mass construction.

 

A light bulb finally turned on in my head one day. It was the wiser part of me saying: Okay, Salee, if you’re brilliant enough to know something isn’t right, then you should be brilliant enough to do something about it. In other words: Speak up!

I’ve learned to be careful when deciding to cooperate with such nudgings because opportunities start cropping up everywhere.

So yep, a challenge presented itself just a few days later. It took place while I was standing at a counter in a restaurant. I had just placed my order and the cashier told me what I owed. I asked her if I could write a check. “Oh no,” she said in her usual brusque and tactless manner. “You can only pay with a card or cash.”

Over the years, I had watched this woman’s attitude as she dealt with customers and puzzled over how she managed to keep her job.

I just couldn’t remain passive anymore.

Reaching out to something deeper in her, I asked warmly: “Can you say that with a smile?”

Blushing, she said: “I don’t like my smile.”

She was smiling.

“Your smile is beautiful,” I said. “It lights up your whole face . . . and besides, it makes me—the customer—feel good inside.”

The look on her face was priceless as she thanked me.

                                                    I felt hugged!

Increasingly over the years, I see that being forthright—when it comes from the heart— is a gift, even an act of love. Unfortunately, we tend to shy away from such directness because we fear it might seem rude, or it could inflict pain, or it may be a wasted effort.

All I know is I’m grateful for the people in my life who didn’t hold back telling me what I needed to hear.  How lucky for me they didn’t tell themselves: What good will it do? It won’t make any difference. Those bold people made me stretch. I thank them for that.

By the way, that employee I was talking about . . . she hasn’t stopped smiling.

Yes! We CAN make a difference.

 

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Latest Wow: What Love Does

ballet

 

Love doesn’t involve pain or control … it sets you free. 

   ~Don Armstrong

Not long ago, a former client—who’s in her forties—was telling me of an incident involving her father. He was giving one of his typical straightening-out-her-thinking talks and at some point he began shaming her . . . “just as he did when I was ten,” she said.

That was a definite mistake on his part. Why? Because she doesn’t just sit and wilt anymore. Nooo. She’s earned her black belt in speaking up. So she called him out—objecting to his unwelcomed shaming tactics and firmly declaring that it wasn’t okay thirty years ago and it isn’t okay now.

He excused it away by saying he “does it out of love.”

Her black belt response:

“Dad, being loving is building someone up, not tearing them down.” He had no words.

Wow!

 

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Husband and Doormat

I-am-not-a-doormat - touched up

The problem with walking on eggshells is that it imprisons you, and nothing gets better.

That was my response to Naomi in our counseling session. She habitually succumbs to her hot-tempered husband.

“I’m careful about everything I say because, well, he gets ugly if I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” she said.

He routinely undermines her self-worth with hurtful, sarcastic remarks. But instead of objecting, Naomi immediately self-censors how she feels.

There’s a price to muzzling ourselves: a restricted voice—unspoken words held captive in the throat—is a form of confinement. If we can’t talk freely, we aren’t free.

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, would agree. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he equates freedom with the ability to articulate grievances. Our founding fathers understood that basic truth when they wrote the constitution.

“When did you become a slave to his moods?” I asked. “And why is degrading treatment okay with you?”

Naomi lowered her head …. and after some tears and lots of sighs, she opened up about the many years of putting up with his abusiveness.

A pattern, though, took root way before Naomi met her husband—when she was a small child. Her one sibling—a sister—kept the household in constant turmoil with her explosive outbursts. Naomi was frequently the target of her sister’s rage and hostility.

“My parents catered to my sister in order to keep things peaceful,” she said.

And they coached Naomi to do the same. When her sister was offensive toward Naomi, instead of being supportive by prompting her to stand up for herself, they hushed her.

“They would tell me to not make waves,” she said.

In fact, Naomi was reprimanded if she fought back or defended herself. Anger wasn’t allowed, even when it was unquestionably justified.

“I was supposed to be understanding,” she said.

Clearly, Naomi and her sister weren’t held to the same standards of conduct and selflessness.

This sent a distinct message to Naomi: the difficult people—those hard to live with—are to be excused.

In this seedbed of her early formation, Naomi naturally concluded that her feelings should always take a back seat, and that she’s expected to quietly endure harsh treatment.

This early programming set the stage for the dynamics in her current relationship. In effect, Naomi married her sister. And now her parents reside inside her head, instructing her to “not make waves” and to tolerate her raging and demeaning husband while ignoring her emotional wounds. A clear-eyed, critical stance toward her husband’s behavior leaves Naomi feeling guilty, causing her to second-guess whether her feelings and observations are accurate, acceptable or even normal. My work with Naomi has included helping her question her programming instead of herself.

“What did your parents need to do differently?” I asked.

“I should have been allowed to assert myself with my sister,” she responded. “They should have let me fight her, stand my ground and say how angry she made me feel. Instead, everything was suppressed. I was never able to speak up to verbal abuse.”

Since her feelings weren’t validated as a child, Naomi has to learn how to do that for herself as an adult. Trusting her emotions is an important hurdle. She is learning just how important it is to be able to honestly assess how others treat her, and how to do it without feeling guilty. Sometimes, subjecting another person to critical analysis is absolutely called for—and necessary for both parties.

I asked her, “Now, what does your husband need from you?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “He needs . . . he really needs me to be myself. He needs me to be honest with him, or he’ll treat me like this until the end of time and we’ll have no chance of really being together. We’ll be ‘husband and doormat’ until we’re old and gray . . . .”

A few sessions later, Naomi told me how she had successfully stood up to her husband after he made a rude comment. She told him she didn’t deserve being talked to that way. And as one could easily predict, he flared up. She, on the other hand, felt bad about upsetting him.

In so many words I said this to Naomi:

He’s upset because you’ve given up your doormat status. Remember, he married a doormat. He didn’t opt for a partner who stood up for herself. So understandably, he’s not in a jubilant mood upon running headlong into your integrity. He’s going to fight back at first, hoping to return things to how they were. Consider his fury a clear sign that you’re evolving.

She smiled, and I could see the relief on her face. Clearly, a new day is coming for Naomi! 🙂

Hopefully, Naomi’s husband follows suit and does some evolving himself. If not, she probably won’t stick around. That’s because once we perceive things through clear eyes, and once we become our own advocate, it’s impossible to go back to tolerating the status quo.

Something to keep in mind:

Don’t automatically assume when someone’s angry at you that you’ve done something wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you did something right.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Real Strength

Rudeness - edited

I like what Sydney Harris, the late American journalist, had to say:

“People who are proud of being brutally frank rarely admit they are more gratified by the brutality than by the frankness.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything admirable about stomping on someone’s dignity. It’s easy to be offensive and degrading. It’s much more difficult to get a point across while remaining tactful . . . even kind.

Straightforwardness occupies two categories: assertiveness and aggressiveness. One is respectful while the other is anything but. Check out this website for more on the difference between the two.

Aggressive communicators aim to dominate and control. Their body language and words convey—loud and clear—“I expect to get my way,” and “I’m always right.”

Tom’s boss is a perfect example. According to Tom, he’s  abrasive and undermining.

“No one wants to speak up at meetings,” Tom said. “It’s the fear of being humiliated. Just last week, I was ridiculed for a less-than-stellar sales report.”

Tom refers to the company’s teamwork philosophy as a “joke. Nothing original is discussed in our meetings,” he said. “Brainstorming may be on the agenda, but our ideas and opinions are instantly argued down. Brainstorming is just another word for us nodding while he postures and spouts out his ideas.”

Not surprisingly, such an atmosphere stifles enthusiasm and commitment. So bosses like Tom’s might as well kiss productivity, creativity and innovation goodbye while they watch dedicated employees like Tom walk out the door.  “I can’t continue to be subjected to this kind of treatment,” Tom said. “When you have to literally drag yourself to work every morning—not because of the job—but because of a person at that job, then it’s time for a change.”

No question, we admire people who speak truthfully and boldly—who tell it like it is. Such people are cut out to be leaders, whether we’re talking about leadership in the office, on the football field, in the classroom or in the home.

I frequently hear parents complain about their child’s lack of respect. Respect is a noble quality, but it’s supposed to run both ways. It’s ludicrous for parents or anyone in a leadership role to expect to receive what he or she is unwilling to give.

successful leadersStudies show that the most successful leaders are those who empower rather than overpower, who inspire cooperation rather than foster alienation, who invite input and negotiation rather than dictate orders.

Here’s what one client had to say about her experience with both types: “I felt like I was working for my former boss, who acted like a dictator, but I feel like I’m working with my current boss.”

Let’s face it, force and disrespect may engender obedience and fear, but they don’t engender loyalty, trust and a desire to cooperate.

According the Wayne Dyer, leaders worthy of our admiration share a common principle: “How do we help influence those around us in ways that are going to make them better, us better, the world a greater place?”

Call it strength.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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The Latest Wow: The Great Divide

grand canyon

 

Not long ago, I was counseling a couple when one partner, Tracie, wowed me with this:

“There will be days in which I will get mad at you and you will get mad at me but we will resolve it. I don’t want to live a life of avoidance.”

Tracie is on to something. Avoidance is no way to inhabit a relationship . . . it isn’t living. It’s compromise; it’s existing in a space of bitterness and resentment; it’s detachment. And detachment grows like an untreated fungus. Pretty soon, a canyon-sized gap defines the nature of the relationship. Not good. Problems don’t get resolved, discussion is thwarted so misunderstandings are allowed to flourish, and wounds don’t get healed—only compounded.

Problems don’t magically go away. They grow fatter if ignored. And we can’t rely on time to do the healing. It doesn’t always work that way.

Dr. John Gottman, an acclaimed marital researcher, doesn’t mince words. He maintains that such relationships are doomed, and further states that unaddressed issues and avoidance are more detrimental to relationship health than conflict. At least in the midst of conflict, he continues, passion and engagement are occurring.

All of that makes sense. Can we really feel close to someone who isn’t receptive to talking things out, who’s unwilling to listen to our point of view, who’s unwilling to work on arriving at a common understanding, who’s unwilling to get vulnerable and naked with their truth? Of course not. It takes mutual understanding—more so than agreement, actually—to spawn an intimate connection.

Thich Nhat Hanh put it perfectly:

“Love is made of understanding and understanding is made of love. “

And, let’s face it, understanding can’t happen unless we have the courage to share honestly, gently, and with an open heart.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

 

 

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Be Brave and Speak Up

 

sunrise

Ever find yourself in the midst of a group of people engaged in a bashfest? Some unfortunate individual is being maligned or trashed behind their back.

What to do?

Join in to feel a part of things? Or stand there, silently uncomfortable? Either choice makes our soul uneasy. It feels like we’re participating in a betrayal of sorts. And we are. It’s a betrayal of the person being targeted and a betrayal of ourselves at some deeper level.

Not long ago a friend of mine, Tina, found herself in one of those situations. The conversation started out as idle chit-chat, but then regressed to bashing other people. “It didn’t feel good,” she said, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

The model for what to do arrived in the form of a woman who happened upon the scene. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Enough feeding the darkness. What are you doing to feed the lightness?”

The woman didn’t wait for an answer to her question. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took charge of the conversation, redirecting it to a positive topic. “It was amazing,” Tina said. “The energy shifted immediately.”

Simply put, the atmosphere morphed because one person decided to feed the lightness.

I love that story of courage. I call it courage because it’s so very difficult to speak up and risk others’ scorn.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and sitting near me on a blanket was a happy two-year-old. Characteristic of her age, she was a bit squirmy. Eventually, she stood up, clearly eager to do some exploring. But her mother immediately gave her a spanking while uttering these harsh words: “You sit down, young lady, until you eat all your food!”

The little girl’s cheerfulness quickly evaporated, replaced with tears and a crestfallen spirit. It hurt to watch. Like many of us in such situations, I asked myself: What can I do?  I wanted to say something but was frozen, lacking both words and courage. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, and I imagined the woman coming back at me with this response: “How I raise my children is none of your business!”

I left the picnic with a sour taste in my mouth, not because of food, but because the incident left me heartsick. Unable to remove it from my consciousness, I pondered the question: Is it really none of my business?

My conclusion: It is my business. How fellow human beings are treated is the business of everyone. That’s because we’re all members of the same family—the human family. And how we raise our children shapes the world we inhabit together.

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

If I could redo the picnic scenario, what would I say to the spanking mother? I would hope to muster the spiritual courage to say: “Oooo, my heart aches for your little girl. How bad she must feel, and probably doesn’t understand what she did wrong. It’s so natural to want to explore at her age.”

I would hope that my response would provoke thoughtful reflection and perhaps make a difference. There’s a chance it wouldn’t, but remaining silent would ensure the latter.

I‘m expanding my blog to include a new category, Random Acts of Courage. I invite you to share with me your experiences with courage—times when you’ve successfully fought the temptation to keep silent in the face of unkindness, or when you’ve witnessed others successfully doing so.

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Two to Tango

tango

Passivity invites the other person to take a power position.

Maya and Jarel have been dancing the same dance step—or style of relating—for years. He dominates and she obediently yields. She’s tired of it.

Not long ago, she was ready to walk out the door, but right at that point he made a dramatic change . . . for the better. Now she’s not so sure about leaving. But she’s not sure about staying, either.

“I’m skeptical,” she said. “If I change my mind and decide to stay, I’m afraid Jarel will go back to his same old ways.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t trust the new you,” I said

Lately, Maya has made some impressive changes—giant strides—in terms of standing up for herself.  She doesn’t mouse-down anymore. Gone are the days of being dictated to and controlled. Gone are the days being passive and silent. She’s come to value herself way too much for that.

Yes, Jarel could slip back to his “same old ways,” but it’s more crucial that she doesn’t.

Here’s the naked truth:

If she doesn’t go back to her old ways, he can’t go back to his. It’s impossible to dance the tango when the other person is busy doing the rumba. As the saying goes: It takes two to tango.

Darcie, another client, was also rising to the challenge of changing the dance in her relationship with her husband.  You can read about that by clicking here.

Maya, Darcie and all dance-changers should not underestimate their power to change a relationship dynamic . . . or dance. They can. It happens, but only if they remain changed themselves.

For Maya, this means she’ll continue to stand up for herself—instead of being passive—if Jarel reverts back to his habit of dominating. Not occasionally or a week later, but ideally every time it happens!

Both will slip up occasionally, but weakening back to their former daily pattern spells destruction for their relationship. Maya’s challenge is to remain just as self-honoring as the day she was poised to walk out.  Not to forget that being uncompromisingly true to herself was the game changer for Jarel.

By the end of our session, Maya was leaning in the direction of staying. She’ll be practicing her new dance step which, inevitably, invites Jarel to follow suit. Who knows, he may even decide he likes the new dance!

 

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The Latest Wow: How to Save a Sinking Ship

healthy ship


“I just learned that the human brain isn’t fully formed until the age of 24.  I got married at 20 so, therefore, I wasn’t in my right mind.”

This little gem—which activated my uncontrollable-laughter-impulse—fell straight from the lips of Anna, a client experiencing a bit of disillusionment in her marriage. Not at all unfamiliar territory for those of us trying to make a marriage or partnership work. We can so relate. 🙂

Peggy is another client who came to me for help in figuring out how to effectively cope with her own brand of disillusionment—living with a man who perpetually sees every glass as half empty . . . tempting Peggy to throw said glass against the wall.  Click here to read my advice to her . . . .

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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