Preliminary Assertiveness Research 2

The second result in my assertiveness research was a shortened version of a whole chapter on assertiveness training on another site, which has 15 chapters on different topics in total. Chapter 13 is titled “Methods for Developing Skills”, with a subsection called “Assertiveness Training“. (The title of the subsection is at the bottom of page 17, but the link leads to page 18, because that’s where the actual content starts. Sloppy layouting.)

As with the first result, I’ll quote sections and comment on them as I go along. (If you only read this blog post, your view of the quoted site will be negatively biased, though – I quote things to nitpick, not to agree.)

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Preliminary Assertiveness Research

I made my first foray into looking for tips on becoming more assertive today by typing “assertiveness practice” into Ecosia (it’s not the best search engine, but suffices for most purposes, and it plants trees), squinting suspiciously at the first three results, skimming through them and scoffing loudly at everything remotely scoff-worthy.

Then I remembered that becoming more assertive is actually important, that I should be searching out and soaking up all useful things instead of mocking the rest, and realized that a contemptuous and reluctant mindset might put me at a disadvantage there. So I took a deep breath and started over.

The very first result is a page geared towards people with disabilities. Pro: it uses simple, straightforward language, which makes it super easy to read. Contra: it offers a self-test which I immediately took (because yay, self-tests!) and which asks you to mark statements such as “You have a right to stand up for yourself” as true or false. This seemed somewhat simplistic and made me doubt if I’d find much useful stuff on this particular site. I moved on anyway, because you never know.

Below, I’ll quote passages from the site and offer my comments.

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Stranger Sacrifices

Lately, I’ve mostly been watching Stranger Things and reading an extensive Harry Potter fanfic (the Sacrifices Arc, available here).

Stranger Things is a Netflix drama/horror/mystery series about one child going missing (Will) and another child suddenly appearing (Eleven, or El for short). The Sacrifices Arc is set in an alternate universe where Harry has a twin brother, Connor, who is believed to be the Boy-Who-Lived instead of Harry, and their parents live.

At first glance, Stranger Things and the Sacrifices Arc don’t seem to have much in common, but watching the show, I found myself bothered by the one thing they do: the dehumanization of El and Harry.

El is kept in a research facility from birth, viewed as a test subject, a tool, a weapon. She is manipulated into compliance by her father, who leads the facility, and when that fails, she is locked into a tiny, dark room.
Harry is trained from birth to be his brother’s protector, his servant, his weapon, to sacrifice his childhood and if necessary his life for Connor. His mother Lily pushes him relentlessly, and any time he falters, any time he complains of being too tired to go on practicing or learning, she guilts him into continuing by forcing him to imagine his brother dying because of his lack of skill or knowledge.

And here’s the difference:

When Harry goes to Hogwarts, and other people notice and learn about what has been done to him, they are shocked and furious at Lily and do anything in their power to help Harry realize that no, actually, he matters, his life and his desires matter, he is more than just a weapon and more than just a sacrifice, he is a person.

When El escapes the facility, and runs into a group of boys her age looking for their missing friend Will, they talk of her as a freak and a weirdo, and later as a weapon. And while they give her food and shelter and help her to run from the “bad men”, they do so first and foremost in order to use her to find Will.

It might not be quite as bad as that – two of the boys do speak of El as their friends eventually, although in one case only after prompting, and one (Mike) even speaks of her staying with his family in the future and going to a dance with him, and he shows some concern for her when hiding in a closet triggers her, and he even kisses her once. And they have a pretty good excuse not to focus all their attention on her, with their friend missing.

But it still leaves a nasty aftertaste. Even when El gets into contact with adults (and these are adults who know quite a bit about what she’s been through), they don’t exactly do much for her mental health. Again, they have a good excuse – one of them is the missing boy’s mother, and she still manages to behave most appropriately out of all of them and at least offer to comfort El in the face of a difficult and terrifying task. But. Still.

Would it have been so impossible to include a couple of scenes of El being allowed to be a person? So impossible to have Mike protest even just once when Dustin calls El “their weapon”? Even after the mostly happy ending, they talk of El mostly as someone with superpowers – would it have been so hard to have them speak of her as their friend instead?

I don’t know, maybe I’m being oversensitive due to the Sacrifices Arc, or I’ve even missed a scene where that happens. (Although if that was easy to miss while the dehumanization wasn’t, I’m inclined to think it was too little.)

This post is for Eleven, not a weapon, not a research subject, but a little girl who likes Eggos and what she looks like with long hair. May you always have friends, and be safe, and know that none of it was your fault, and that yes, you are pretty.

Touching (Part 2)

On his last weekend visit in Austria, D also once initiated body contact I felt extremely uncomfortable with. Just like this time, I never spoke up about it while we were together. I felt as if it had been partly my mistake –  I had not said no immediately, even though I had known that he hadn’t wanted to do anything against my will and would have stopped right away. And I thought that hearing about it would make him feel horrible, which of course I didn’t want, especially since it was too late to change anything about it anyway.

Months later, an unexpected opportunity to bring it up arose in chat, and – quickly, before I could change my mind, my heart beating hard and fast – I did so in the most tentative, careful way I could, typing (in shy parentheses) that the lack of communication about it beforehand had been suboptimal.

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Touching (Part 1)

(I am almost done writing about the Sweden holiday. Only one more section is left, the one about touching. I wrote about some of it in the section on sleeping arrangements as well, which left me with nervous energy buzzing through my body, so I took a break and a few deep breaths afterwards. Now I click back to the open document. For a moment, my mind is blank. Where do I start? Eventually, I just start typing. I’m going to edit it later anyway.)

Touching. Oh man. Where do I even start.

Touching, like sleeping, was Hell.

In the last section, I wrote that I don’t like being petted when I’m trying to sleep. That was an understatement. In truth, I don’t like being petted when I’m trying to do almost anything else at the time.
When I’m just reading or watching a movie, it’s bearable but distracting – I’m always a little anxious about the touch getting too close for comfort to places I don’t want touched or staying in one place for so long it feels like it’s slowly grinding away my skin or turning bad in some other way. But when I’m trying to focus on something (writing, or reading something challenging), it’s extremely unwelcome.

Worse than petting, however, is hugging me when I’m busy with something else. That is a pretty failsafe way to get me ready to explode.

(I take another short break, searching for words. Then I hit the keys again in a burst of impatience and irritation.)

And I don’t even know how to explain this, because I fail to understand how anyone can believe differently. How do you not think it horribly rude to just grab someone who is peacefully minding their own business, to physically confine them, to force them to stop doing whatever it is they are doing? How do you consider yourself and your own desire to hug them right now so much more important than anything they might have going on – getting food or going to the bathroom or going back to their book excited to find out what’s happening next or whatever – that you don’t even have to ask, verbally or in body language, before you physically interrupt them and prevent them from completing it?

(Memories of countless times D hugged me against my will and/or held on to me for too long flood my mind, memories of times I hunched my shoulders and kept my gaze averted when walking past him and thought “please don’t please don’t please don’t”, all of them running together into a seething slurry of anger and frustration.)

And then they have to appease you with attention and kisses to your satisfaction before you let them go, like you’re some fucking deity demanding a sacrifice??? How does it not occur to you that they might not want any of that? How does it not occur to you that, when you’ve grabbed someone in this unbelievably rude way and they freeze or go limp and turn their head away and avoid eye contact or literally try to move away, you should FUCKING LET GO OF THEM???

(My hands are too busy typing to shake, but it feels as if they should. My breath comes in short, shallow bursts. My mind is racing and frozen at the same time, a disoriented and disjointed feeling. I tell myself to calm down, slow down, gentling my thoughts and turning them towards better memories.)

C is good about these things. When he wants attention, a kiss, a hug, or a cuddle, he tentatively draws closer, waits for me to acknowledge him, and often verbally asks for it. C has never reached out to me when I was just walking past and not looking at him. When he is hugging or kissing me and I move backwards, away from him, he lets go.
(He did use to pet a single spot for ages until it hurt, and just follow whenever I moved the body part in question away, but after I told him so once he noticeably tried to do better.)

D is not.
I was getting food once, shaker bottle in my hand and moving towards the counter, when D caught me from behind. I went still for a moment or two, and then, hoping that had been enough, made a move towards the counter again. He just tightened his grip and only let go when I was frustrated enough to loudly tell him to.
Another time, I was walking past him (my shoulders drawn forward and my gaze locked straight ahead), and he looked up and reached out for me. I had kept carefully out of his range anyway, but took another small step sideways just to make absolutely clear that I didn’t want to be reached. He produced a sound of mock outrage and got up. I had passed him by then, and – almost involuntarily – sped up, literally running away, until I had reached the couch at the end of the room and had nowhere left to go, and then dropped down, ducking my head, and he caught me anyway and drew me towards him and didn’t let go until I had given up and gone slack and let him kiss me.

(I form the next sentence I want to write, but before I can type it, my fingers freeze, stilled by another memory, and then I can’t because it is a lie.)

And this is where I’d assure you that he’d let go if I asked him to, except one morning I tried to get up while he was holding me, and he didn’t let go, and then I asked him to, and he just replied: “And what if I don’t?”

(I blink. This can’t be right. He didn’t meant it. There’s something I’m forgetting, or remembering wrong.)


(More memories come, unbidden, and when I type again, I only type my own disorganized thoughts, debating myself, my mind splintering into conflicting parties and each one throwing a sentence or two onto the screen before another one hijacks my fingers.)

Working Out

I worked out for the first time in two weeks and five days yesterday!
I had planned to start again right away when I got back from Sweden, but, as various philosophers and psychologists have theorized and probably everybody knows from personal experience, it takes a certain amount of willpower to work on self-improvement when one could also continue doing easier things instead.

I managed to get my brain to cooperate by firmly telling myself that I would feel happier after and even during the workout, and supporting this assertion with past memories of this happening. (It might be anecdotal evidence only, but for better or worse, that is the kind of evidence that works best on certain parts of the mind.) I am happy to report that I turned out to be correct, giving me another memory to use in future persuasion attempts.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after the break, and initially, my fears seemed justified: the bodyline work (a lot of different static holds, to be held for up to 60s each) felt harder than usual. However, the actual strength exercises went just as well as beforehand, possibly even slightly better (I managed to touch the bar at every horizontal row!).
I don’t know if the initial difficulties were due to imagination or a lack of motivation (static holds are the worst) or something else – the only other possible cause I can think of is that usually I work out halfway between two meals, neither full nor hungry, and this time I was hungry. Does low blood sugar interfere more with static holds than exercises? Did my body just need a little more time than the warmup to adjust to exercise? Who knows! I’m looking forward to finding out how the next workout will go.

Until then, I might finally make myself a workout playlist; it would probably help to have one.

A Sweden holiday with my brain

This summer, I spent two weeks in Sweden with two of my boyfriends, whom I’ll call C and D.
The holiday was largely D’s doing – he has a small cottage there and absolutely adores being there, talking off the ears of everybody willing to listen about the lakes and the forests and how beautifully cool it is there while Germany (where D lives) and Austria are collectively drenched in sweat due to the murderous heat in summer.

I can confirm that Sweden indeed has a lot of forests, and beautiful ones at that: mostly coniferous with a few birches sprinkled in between, their floors covered with fallen needles, thick, mesmerizingly green blankets of moss, occasional ferns, and innumerable blueberries. Whether we walked through the forests right around the cottage or any others we visited, I could bend down and snack on blueberries almost any time I felt like it. And when I got tired of blueberries, there were often raspberries around as well, just as ripe and even sweeter.

Lakes exist as well, their water sparkling in the sun and rippling in the wind. The one closest to us was invitingly warm, hemmed by reeds, carrying a few water lilies and a multitude of skimmers zipping across the surface and covering a few of the lilies’ leaves so thoroughly they were barely visible anymore.

On average, the weather was as cool as promised – the first two days were so hot that I started to doubt D’s tales (sweating even just lounging around on the couch inside), and then the weather changed – the temperatures dropped, and it was usually cloudy, with frequent, brief, and heavy showers. By the end, I sometimes lounged around on the aforementioned couch and considered digging my sweater vest out of my backpack, with my freezing cold feet tucked beneath C’s butt for warmth.

So much for the good parts. Now buckle up, kids, there’s whining ahead. A lot of whining.

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