Alcoholics and addicts are called upon to learn new life skills to replace the roles that chemicals played in their lives. Some of the most important skills to acquire in early recovery are effective communication and relationship skills.
Assertiveness is necessary for communication and relationship skills. This self-confident style implies not only being able to stand up for one’s own rights without trampling on the rights of others, but also being able to say “no” without feeling guilty. It encompasses taking responsibility for one’s own feelings, behaviors, decisions, actions, and reactions, while relinquishing responsibility for those same things in others. It includes being able to appropriately express a wide range of emotions to others.
Firm and self-assured behavior involves being able to openly, honestly, and directly communicate one’s wants and needs. Establishing firm boundaries does not imply building impenetrable walls. It tells others where you stand and describes a series of appropriate behaviors towards you.
Passivity denotes a lack of self-confidence and firmness. It usually involves the abandonment of one’s own rights, desires, needs, to the desires or needs of others. The absence of appropriate boundaries allows others to treat you as they want, regardless of what you want.
Aggression involves overstepping the boundaries of others to satisfy one’s own desires or needs. It may involve verbal, emotional, sexual, spiritual, or intellectual abuse. This could involve manipulation and dirty fighting tactics. People can also be passive-aggressive, which is about being aggressive in a sneaky, covert way. Most of the time, it is about expressing anger in a hidden way. A classic example is the typical backbiting, back talking, a type of behavior that is seen in the world of work every day. Most people exhibit this behavior from time to time. The following are examples of passive aggressive responses to a request that you do not want to make:
1. Say “ok” but have no intention of doing it.
2. Saying “ok,” meaning to do it, but putting it off until they finally do it themselves.
3. Saying “okay”, doing it, but doing it wrong, thinking “they will never ask me to do that again”.
4. Say “fine”, do it and do a good job, but turn around everyone complaining about your imposition in the first place.
5. Instead of saying “no”, give 15 excuses for why you can’t do it and the real reason is that you don’t want to.
An appropriately firm way of dealing with an undesirable request is to say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” or “No, thanks,” or “No.” When you’re not used to being assertive, a simple “No” can seem aggressive.
Most people have some area of their lives where they feel pretty safe to stand up for themselves. Even the least confident person has an area where they can be assertive, and the most confident person has an area where they can’t seem to do well.
The skills you use to be assertive in one area are transferable to other areas where it seems like you’ll always give in. All it takes to transfer these skills is “risk”. The risk is usually the fear of loss when you avoid trying to be assertive. This fear of loss often has to do with loss of esteem, self-esteem, loss of goods and services, or loss of relationship. More often than not, the fear is out of proportion to the probability of an actual loss.
To find out in which areas you are least confident in your ability to be assertive, ask yourself if you typically behave in a confident and assertive manner when involved in the following circumstances:
1. Hang up on telemarketers without listening to their sales pitch?
2. Take something defective to Walmart?
3. Send you back a steak that isn’t cooked the way you ordered it?
4. Saying “no” to your neighbor when he wants to borrow something.
5. Set boundaries with someone at work who tries to take advantage of your good nature, either by trying to get you to do your job or by asking you to cover for it.
6. Negotiating changes at work, either for more money or a change in working conditions.
7. Saying “no” to one of your siblings who wants something you don’t want to give: time, energy, or other resources.
8. Saying “no” (and staying at “no”) to a child who wants something you don’t want to give, do, or buy.
9. Set boundaries with the older generation (your parents or your spouse’s parents) when they want to meddle in your affairs where they don’t belong (for example, money or marriage).
10. Assertively convey your feelings to your partner who has done something that involved your hurt feelings.
Can you see patterns in the areas where you want to be confident and assertive and where you have the most trouble? What are they?
In what areas of difficulty can you become assertive by practicing the skills you already have? If you took a risk, what would happen?
Look at the areas that lack secure steadfastness and ask yourself, “What have I been unwilling to risk?”
Most of the time, fear is not based in reality. If you find that you cannot be confidently assertive in close personal relationships, the risk is probably fear of abandonment. You may be afraid that those significant others will not love you if you are honest with them or if you take care of yourself.
Assertiveness is a worthwhile effort. Builds and reinforces self-esteem. Passivity, aggression and passive aggression undermine self-esteem. Learning to be confident and competent in your relationships with others is an important recovery task. Safe and firm communication is a component of acquiring these relationship skills.