Monday, April 15, 2013

How I Became More Assertive

As a child and teenager, I was not assertive.  I rarely said no to people.  Sometimes people made sexist jokes in my presence, and I was very bothered but too timid to speak out against it.  Watching them get away with the offensive comments gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.  As a teenager, occasionally young men would keep touching my shoulder or squeezing me many times in an hour, and it made me uncomfortable but I didn't know how to stop it.

Now I am very assertive.  Some friends might say too much so.  Anyway, I would like to share how I personally achieved this, for the young people who are struggling with their own journey of becoming assertive.

When I was 20, I decided that I would become more assertive.  It was important to me.  But I was so unused to speaking up for myself that it often took several days for me to even realize that someone had made me uncomfortable.  It was too big a leap to go from where I was to being able to speak up for myself immediately on the spot.   So, the pact I made to myself was that when I realized that my boundaries were violated, I would email the person and tell them, even if the realization came several days after the fact.

This was so immensely awkward.

There were many email exchanges like this:

Me: On Saturday, when you made that joke about how Flight Simulator programmers are slackers because we all got two weeks of vacation after we shipped our product, it really bothered me.  We're not slackers.  We work very hard.  I'm really annoyed.

Friend: Wait.  You didn't say anything at the time.  In fact, we kept talking for another hour and you were laughing and having a great time.  Even the next day, you sent me a happy article.  Now you're telling me that it bothered you?

Me: Yes, that is accurate.

Friend: This is really awkward!  Why are you telling me three days later!  Anyway I didn't mean to insult you.  I was just envious because we only got one day vacation on Microsoft Office.

Me: Thanks.

There were numerous exchanges like this.  Many were far more awkward.  The most awkward one was when I had a happy group outing and then emailed one person 24 hours later:
"Yesterday you made a joke at my expense that really bothered me.  [details of the joke]  I just want you to know that I should've told you to go fuck yourself."

That person never replied.  They probably forwarded the email to others in the outing with a subject such as "Niniane is really weird".

But overall the plan worked!  At first it took me three days to realize that I was bothered by something.  Over a period of months, this became two days, one day, then just a few hours.  After more than a year, I was able to realize in the moment when I was bothered, and speak up about it.  Now it has been over a decade, and I am so accustomed to being assertive that I take it for granted as part of myself.

This has been so helpful in life, work, love, friendships.

No comments: