Having had a couple of 'set-backs' during the week, I decided to sit down and watch a film………in the afternoon!!! This is something I seldom do, and is generally linked to either celebration or commiseration, and this time it was the latter. The first film suggested by Netflix looked relatively harmless, and as this moment was one of pure escapism, I pressed play. Moxie (PG13) is a film about a shy teenager who, inspired by her mother's feminist stance when younger, decides to protest about her high-school’s indifference to issues impacting women, and challenge it’s sexist policies. I was surprised, moved and even inspired by the film, as I watched the journey of Vivian (Hadley Robinson) growing from a girl who was unsure what teenagers were ‘supposed to be passionate about’, to a young leader and defender of the weak and voiceless. Following the film, I found the courage (or moxie) to express my own voice concerning the 'set-backs' I mentioned, to those who I felt had mishandled the situation that I found myself in. It seemed more acceptable to keep my feelings to myself, but after watching the film, I boldly expressed my truth in an email, and felt proud for standing up and speaking out.
Take online purchasing for instance, I regularly trawl through reviews before I buy a product, and really appreciate reading the experiences others have had before making my purchase, but I very rarely write a review myself, particularly a negative one. So why is it so difficult to give honest critique regarding a poor service delivered, an unpleasant response received or an item that arrives faulty? Is it the British embarrassment about making a ‘fuss’, or discomfort about upsetting someone, or maybe just wanting to be liked?
In 1982 Anne Dickson published a great book called, ‘A Woman In Your Own Right’, offering another explanation about our reticence when it comes to, saying it as it is. Sadly the title and contents is some what exclusive, when actually the book is about issues that challenge both men and women, such as feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and the struggle to value ourselves enough to be assertive.
I remember a few years ago describing myself as someone who could either grovel or explode, but I didn’t seem to have the skills that I needed in between these two states, to successfully manage my emotions. Consequently, I would bury my displeasure, disappointment or disagreement until the final straw fell, and then my pent-up frustration would erupt, anger and accusation flying everywhere, often to the bewilderment of the recipient. Although I still have a way to go, the good news is that over the years I am managing my emotions much better, as being assertive is a skill that can be learnt, and more importantly has nothing to do with being hard-nosed, domineering, overbearing, hostile or self-centred, but everything to do with self-worth and self-respect.
Much of the following is paraphrased from Anne Dickson’s book. Anne looks a 4 different behaviour types:
· The aggressive stereotype who comes across loudly and forcefully, attacking outright, committed to winning every time, and leaving a trail of hurt and humiliated people behind them.
· The passive/resigned stereotype who tends to opt-out and hide, leaving others to make decisions, and then feels a victim of unfairness and injustice.
· The indirectly aggressive type who needs to control and manipulate those around to avoid rejection and hurt; they neither trust themselves nor anyone else.
All three of these behaviour types lack any real self-esteem.
· The fourth, assertive behaviour type, respects themselves and those they are dealing with, and accepts both their own positive and negative qualities, helping them to be more authentic in their acceptance of others. They are not over dependant on the approval of others and their self-esteem is anchored deeply within.
So how do we become this amazing self-confident, self-controlled, balanced individual who is able to assert their opinions, without starting a war, or losing sleep?
Firstly we need to identify our feelings and know how to acknowledge them in words. Sadly our unhelpful cultural legacy of dividing feelings into ‘positive and negative’, means that many of us have been taught that negative feelings are bad, unpleasant and shouldn’t be felt, let alone put into words, so we often try to hide what we feel, even from ourselves. The denial of our feelings will sabotage any attempts we make to behave assertively.
What we feel is what we feel and although we can take responsibility for how we act or react, we cannot be blamed or criticised for experiencing the feelings themselves. Whatever the feeling is, acknowledgment helps us to take charge of our emotions rather than being at the mercy of them. As we learn to identify our feelings, we discover that they can act as a vehicle of understanding the truth, even if our heads are telling us something different. When we cut ourselves off from what we feel, we cut ourselves off from an essential source of personal insight and guidance.
Of all our complex and powerful emotions, anger remains the most misunderstood. Whereas love is regarded as beautiful and enhancing, anger is considered ugly and degrading. However, if we can separate anger from aggression, then we can express our annoyance, indignation or outrage, without trying to crush or humiliate our adversary in the process. Anger is a response to frustration, unfairness or invasion and can be communicated without attacking another, whereas aggression is rooted in anxiety and fear and always focuses on a target, with an aim of self-protection and 'being right'
The first steps to assertive behaviour are recognition, acknowledgement and verbal expression. This is because until there is acceptance of a feeling, whatever it is, the battle will continue between the body, (which attempts to release the feeling), and the head (which has learned to keep everything battened down). The greater the pressure for the feeling to be released, the greater the counter-effort of the head to control and prevent expression. All this leads to increased tension and results in either an avalanche of exploding emotions, or subsidence where we succumb to all sorts of illnesses and mental exhaustion. But self-disclosure can act in an extraordinary way here, to allow the mouth to articulate feelings and form a meeting point between the battling head and body. The head and body start to act together, with the head finding language to translate the physical sensations of the emotion, thus easing the conflict.
So to put simply, saying our stuff, one way or another, is the route to bringing the person we are on the inside and the one we are on the outside closer together, causing increased self-esteem. Be mindful though, because there's saying your stuff, and then there's saying your stuff – so to do this well, here are a few tips:
1) Identify your feelings and if you are at boiling point, take time and action to allow the heat (aggression) to come out, before you try to communicate your thoughts and wishes to another. (Ooops! I have to work on this one!)
2) Express your feelings as calmly as possible, being clear, specific and factual, whilst appropriately matching what you say to the level of what you feel.
3) Describe the reason for your feelings without blaming or shaming.
4) Request a change - be specific here......ie. 'I am requesting that in our future conversations you speak to me in a respectful manner.'
Personally, I would think a consequence for 'no change' should be considered as a step 5......ie. 'If you simply can't stop speaking to me in a derogatory way, I will no longer be able to visit you.' This could either be communicated, or just acted upon if your request is not met.
Make sure, that you listen to the other person, respectfully hearing what they have to say – that way you don’t lose ground if you have misinterpreted what may actually turn out to be a benign situation, or make an enemy out of someone who is simply misguided and prepared to be better informed.
Obviously achieving this takes practice, and often in our ordinary everyday situations we have a chance to be more honest with ourselves and others, whether it just saying a polite ‘no’ to a request that we don’t really want to fulfil, explaining how we feel when the workload is not shared equally, or simply withdrawing from being carried along by public holiday hype, just because it’s the expected way to behave.
I watch people with great respect who have mastered the art of diffusing a volatile situation simply by how they handle themselves, making their thoughts known, without being forceful or accusational, but calmly, confidently and…… well …..assertively. I confess I have quite a way to go on this front, but hopefully my little moxie moments are steps in the right direction.