Does your assertiveness muscle need some flexing? Do you squeak around without a yelp? Do you let yourself get steamrolled or violated? Do you let others off the hook or simply swallow your boundaries, squish ’em down and pretend you don’t want what you want or are cool with what’s not cool?
For women in particular, asserting ourselves can quickly have the ‘bitch’ or ‘crazy’ stamp tossed upon us. Still climbing to the rung of equality, speaking up can feel like treading into dangerous waters and keeping quiet, avoiding conflict, avoiding looking bad or hurting the feeling’s of others can be the reflexive move over being straight up about what’s not working.
It’s not just women who find this challenging. Men too, especially men who are conscious of giving all equal space and rights and are sensitive to gender issues and want to see everyone empowered and have a voice, or who’ve been squashed or dominated, can quiet their own voice and power as to not disrupt or put others out.
Whatever the reason- your cultural training, how your parents were, that frightening teacher in fifth grade, the traumatic experience that rendered you timid, not asserting yourself when your boundaries are crossed or when something doesn’t feel good or right or fair can result in consequences that reinforce the feeling that perhaps you shouldn’t, or don’t deserve, to assert yourself.
This week’s practice is about asserting yourself when something doesn’t work for you. This can be a scary muscle to build and sending you off into the hot zones of your life to speak up may be counter productive. So this practice is about identifying and naming when something doesn’t work for you. It’s simple. And effective.
Practice: Throughout the day, notice when something’s not working for you. Maybe it’s as extreme as someone else’s abusive or violent or violating behaviour. Maybe it’s as small as the coffee you ordered had the wrong milk in it and you didn’t say something. Whatever it is, notice when something doesn’t work for you and notice your habit of keeping mum about it.
Next, if you’re not able to speak up (which we’re assuming you’re not if this practice is a juicy one for you,) you’ll probably notice that you’re contracted or tense or shrunk in some way afterward. Maybe you run through the scenario in your mind, maybe you complain to others. Pay attention to this, to your habitual mental loops or behaviours when you don’t speak up about what isn’t ok.
This next bit is important, here’s where the pattern gets interrupted a bit and you build some voice. Get yourself somewhere where you can comfortably say OUT LOUD…”I don’t like that.” (probably in a private place somewhere.)
You see, what typically happens when we don’t state our boundaries or we allow our boundaries to be violated is that we go on to stew about it, complain about it to others or invalidate the very boundary that’s actually quite appropriate to have. All of these moves diffuse the boundary, diffuse the energy that’s needed to claim what matters and put our stake in the ground around what’s ok and what’s not ok. Starting with saying…”I don’t like that,” out loud to ourselves, with nothing added is a way to start claiming that boundary back. As this clarity and claiming grow within you, you may be able to start to say this to others, in low-stake situations at first, and eventually where it’s hot, where you’d typically shrivel or hide away.
May this practice serve you in claiming your dignity, your rights and your rightful boundaries.