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.)

The rest of us appreciate pleasant, accommodating people but whenever a “nice” person permits a greedy, dominant person to take advantage of him/her, the passive person is not only cheating him/herself but also reinforcing unfair, self-centered behavior in the aggressive person.

Wow, thanks. I didn’t know my lack of assertiveness is literally making the world a worse place by rewarding evil behavior – this opens whole new dimensions of guilt! Now I won’t just feel bad for myself, but also because I’m turning people evil and everyone will have to suffer because of my failures!

Interestingly, this site has the same list of assertive behaviors as the first one, although somewhat more elaborate and citing their source:

Factor analysis of several assertiveness scales (Schimmel, 1976) has suggested several kinds of behavior are involved.

  • To speak up, make requests, ask for favors and generally insist that your rights be respected as a significant, equal human being. To overcome the fears and self-depreciation that keepyou from doing these things.
  • To express negative emotions (complaints, resentment, criticism, disagreement, intimidation, the desire to be left alone) and to refuse requests. See “I” statements in method #4.
  • To show positive emotions (joy, pride, liking someone, attraction) and to give compliments. Accept compliments with “Thank you.”
  • To ask why and question authority or tradition, not to rebel but to assume responsibility for asserting your share of control of the situation – and to make things better. You are no one’s slave.
  • To initiate, carry on, change and terminate conversations comfortably. Share your feelings, opinions and experiences with others. See method #8.
  • To deal with minor irritations before your anger builds into intense resentment and explosive aggression. See method #5.

As before: yes please.
I did not check out the methods they refer to, because they provide neither a link nor any other means to find them for people who have not been reading all chapters. The table of contents is of no help either. (Which is rather annoying – if you’re already going to have a website instead of a book, it would seem rather obvious that you should utilize the advantages of websites over books, but no, apparently not.)

Next, they have steps. (They don’t really specify what for, but presumably steps to become more assertive.)

STEP ONE: Realize where changes are needed and believe in your rights.

Pretty general. Also, I’d expect that most people who come across this particular part of the website already have situations in mind where they need changes, and do believe they have the right to demand/make those – after all, this is training for how to do that, not philosophical musings on the rights of individuals.

The text detailing this step contains the lovely advice to “Ask yourself if you want to continue being weak.” Thanks again. Guilt and self-loathing are the best motivators!

One may need to deal with the anxiety associated with changing, to reconcile the conflicts within your value system, to assess the repercussions of being assertive, and to prepare others for the changes they will see in your behavior or attitude. Talk to others about the appropriateness of being assertive in a specific situation that concerns you. If you are still scared even though it is appropriate, use desensitization or role-playing to reduce the anxiety.

I do have some anxiety about changing, but recognize that changes are necessary and beneficial for me as well as others. I don’t have conflicts in my value system about assertiveness, and I don’t know what repercussions I might experience yet. I’m not sure how to “prepare others”, but I told D I intended to work on this months ago – I suppose that counts.
In the specific situation of saying no to unwanted body contact, I consider assertiveness entirely appropriate and would not want to be in close contact with people who disagree. (And in general, “talk to others” seems like dangerous advice – that could be anyone, from people with value systems that discourage assertiveness over people who just plain aren’t sure themselves to actual abusers.)
I don’t have anyone to do desensitization or role-playing with, wouldn’t be sure how to do that (they don’t give details), and am not sure I could do it anyway (I get very embarrassed very easily).

STEP TWO: Figure out appropriate ways of asserting yourself in each specific situation that concerns you.
Their recommendations are:
Watch a good model. Discuss the problem situation with a friend, a parent, a supervisor, a counselor or other person. Carefully note how others respond to situations similar to yours and consider if they are being unassertive, assertive or aggressive. Read some of the books listed at the end of this method.
I don’t have a good model or opportunity to note others in similar situations – I don’t exactly watch other people have body contact.
D recently mentioned that C managed to say no without making D feel rejected during the holiday – I will ask both D and C for specifics, maybe I can learn something useful there.
I don’t really have anyone else to talk to about this, can’t afford books and might not find the time to read them anyway.
Most assertiveness trainers recommend that an effective assertive response contain several parts:
  1. Describe (to the other person involved) the troublesome situation as you see it. Be very specific about time and actions, don’t make general accusations like “you’re always hostile…upset…busy.” Be objective; don’t suggest the other person is a total jerk. Focus on his/her behavior, not on his/her apparent motives.
  2. Describe your feelings, using an “I” statement which shows you take responsibility for your feelings. Be firm and strong, look at them, be sure of yourself, don’t get emotional. Focus on positive feelings related to your goals if you can, not on your resentment of the other person. Sometimes it is helpful to explain why you feel as you do, so your statement becomes “I feel ______ because ______.” (see the next method).
  3. Describe the changes you’d like made, be specific about what action should stop and what should start. Be sure the requested changes are reasonable, consider the other person’s needs too, and be willing to make changes yourself in return. In some cases, you may already have explicit consequences in mind if the other person makes the desired changes and if he/she doesn’t. If so, these should be clearly described too. Don’t make dire threats, if you can’t or won’t carry out them out.

This is a useful formula to bring up specific situations after the fact, and I’ve used a very similar approach in the past to talk about body contact as well as other issues with other people. (I usually skip 2 or rephrase, because I have trouble with the assertive behavior “expressing emotions”, and “I feel” statements definitely count as expressing emotions.)
However, the formula doesn’t help with reacting assertively in the moment, which is my whole issue here – the change I’d like to make is that I’d like to be more assertive in these specific situations.

Next, they give some example situations, and then we get to step three.

STEP THREE: Practice giving assertive responses.

Their first recommendation is to role-play, “or, if that isn’t possible, simply imagine interacting assertively.” I tend to imagine myself interacting assertively a lot anyway, usually after the fact and wishing fervently the specific situation had gone differently. Doing it in advance with the goal to respond the way I do in my fantasies might be worth a try, though.

They also warn that

strong reactions are possible, e.g. getting mad and calling you names, counter-attacking and criticizing you, seeking revenge, becoming threatening or ill, or suddenly being contrite and overly apologetic or submissive.

Hopefully, D won’t get mad, call me names, or attack me in any way.
I do worry that he might complain about me drawing away too much, or that he might interpret me drawing away more as a sign that I am upset with him for some reason. The latter might lead to him getting angry at me: if he asks me about it, and I tell him I’m not upset, but continue to behave in a way he perceives as punishing, he would become frustrated and feel manipulated.
I’m not sure how to get around that. I’ve considered telling him I’m just doing it to practice my assertiveness, but then I would feel more and more pressure to stop it again over time, even if my actual feelings towards body contact don’t change.
This is further complicated by the fact that D is here for weekend visits every few months only – refusing body contact on those rare occasions, when he has spent the past months looking forward to it and just driven for hours, seems really rude. (I could tell him in advance that I didn’t want any body contact this time so he could make an informed decision, but if he then chooses to stay away, obviously I won’t get to practice, and if he doesn’t and initiates body contact anyway, that would make me feel unsafe right off the bat and make assertive responses considerably harder.)
Finally, assertiveness is used to confront difficult situations and people. Some people just won’t take “no” for an answer; some kids continue arguing and arguing; some people don’t realize how determined you are until you repeat the message many times. One technique is called the broken record: you calmly and firmly repeat a short, clear statement over and over until the other person gets the message.
This right here is exactly the skill I want to learn. I want to be able to say no firmly, multiple times in a row if necessary, and in multiple instances if necessary.
Just… how? How do I do this without getting anxious? How do I do this without feeling I’m saying nothing but no, that I’m being unnecessarily difficult or uncompromising, that this is more effort than it is worth?
STEP FOUR: Try being assertive in real life situations.

Start with the easier, less stressful situations. Build some confidence. Make adjustments in your approach as needed.

Look for or devise ways of sharpening your assertiveness skills.

Examples: Ask a friend to lend you a piece of clothing, a record album, or a book. Ask a stranger for directions, change for a dollar, or a pen or pencil. Ask a store manager to reduce the price of a soiled or slightly damaged article, to demonstrate a product, or exchange a purchase. Ask an instructor to help you understand a point, find extra reading, or go over items you missed on an exam. Practice speaking and making small talk, give compliments to friends and strangers, call up a city official when you see something unreasonable or inefficient, praise others when they have done well, tell friends or co-workers experiences you have had, and on and on. Keep a diary of your interactions.
Their examples aren’t really doable or useful for me, either because those specific issues aren’t a problem anyway (I can ask friends to lend me things!) or because they just don’t apply to me (I have never bought soiled or damaged articles and won’t do so just for practice), and I’m not having any ideas for examples of my own. The one about asking an instructor would be cool for driving lessons, but unfortunately, that is an extremely difficult situation, and I don’t expect to be able to do so anytime soon.
I can only think of extremes – things that are either easy already, or way too hard to be realistic.
Keeping a diary sounds good, and I’ll probably record any progress here anyway, but I’d need to actually make progress to do that.
Next, they detail some common problems people run into when trying to be more assertive:
If you do change, some of your friends, relatives and/or co-workers may have difficulty accepting such a basic change in personality. Tell them why you want to be different; most will support you.
While most people around me would nod happily at general statements about me becoming more assertive, they might not realize that that would include me being more assertive towards them. Past attempts at asserting myself and drawing and defending boundaries have occasionally lead to highly negative outcomes, which might have something to do with my current difficulties in this area.
This is a problem, and it’s one this site doesn’t help with. Possibly even the opposite, considering they often recommend checking in with friends and/or unspecified “others” to ascertain the appropriateness of assertive behavior. (Which, again, seems like really dangerous advice.)
It is not uncommon for a formerly passive person to be so successful in changing that he/she becomes overly demanding. Perhaps the new found power goes to his/her head and he/she becomes aggressive and obnoxious. If you can remain just as sensitive to other people’s rights as you are to your own, this isn’t likely to happen.
Well, that’s terrifying, the last sentence notwithstanding.
Ugh. Maybe I would be more successful trying to train myself into liking lots of body contact. (Just need a clicker and a good reward… which might not actually be that easy, considering that both food and head scratches are out. A page from my book, maybe? A few minutes of browsing the internet in peace?)
[I]f the people around you will react hostilely to your being graciously assertive, perhaps you should see a lawyer.
That is doubtlessly extremely useful advice for people who are absolutely certain they are being “graciously assertive”. In my humble opinion, such people are unlikely to read this chapter, but what do I know.

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