This is part 4 of twelve articles for Assertive Communication Series.
The articles Cognitive Distortions – A Fancy Term for Thinking Incorrectly, Assertive Rights, Part I and Assertive Rights, Part II, explain thinking and perceiving habits of many people. In a nutshell – we are all born assertive; but our upbringing makes us forget our birth-given rights (and those of others), and teaches us to either submissively bow our heads to often rather unreasonable demands from others, or to carpet-bomb our way through life. What comes hand in hand with these models of behavior are erroneous thinking patterns called cognitive distortions, which support our non-assertive actions.
Think of a typical example – a young woman, highly intelligent, works hard to accomplish her career goals. She was always top of her class. She won every contest there was, she was always the brightest, and you would never expect anything but success from her. You might even call her an over-achiever. When she comes to see a psychologist, she’s much too close to a burn-out. She loves her job, but the idea of running away from the hectic schedule (she took upon herself without any coercion, to be completely fair) is tempting her! It’s immediately apparent that a blend of factors contributes to her ambiguous situation. She feels that the world will collapse if she allows herself not to be the best at every moment; she thinks that she will be seen as incapable, or stupid even, if she takes it easy from time to time. She is convinced that she will completely fall out of practice if she takes a week off. And she cannot, not for the world, say “no” to piling assignments she took over from her (much more assertive) colleagues. And it may seem obvious looking at her situation objectively that none of these convictions are realistic, but for this woman, they are horrifyingly accurate.
Now, assertiveness is both a life philosophy, a model of thinking, and a communication technique. And communication doesn’t always have to happen between two people. We also communicate with our personal demons and our inner fighter. This is why learning to be assertive can help not just interpersonal relationships, but also boost our feeling of self-worth and our serenity. The woman from our example would benefit from working through her assertive rights. She might remind herself that she has the right to say NO to her colleagues’ demands, and doesn’t have to know everything all the time. And she surely wouldn’t be any less amazing if she did so. She would also benefit from reassessing her irrational catastrophic predictions about the world’s end if she took a break from her relentless chase for success and constant confirmation of her capabilities. By doing so, she would be able to release the energy that got invested into her black and white thinking, labelling and catastrophizing, and use it for her growth.
We know that none of these things come easy. Resisting the pressure coming from others, and more importantly, from our own self-ideal and values, may seem to be near to impossible at the beginning. And it surely will be overwhelming. We do have a lifetime of thinking habits to change! This is why we prepared Assertive Techniques, Part I and Assertive Techniques, Part II for you, so that you can begin to gradually build your assertiveness, your self-confidence, and your life contentment.