Top of my New Year’s resolution list when the clock struck midnight was to be more assertive in 2017. I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about this, but just knew that I would be a lot happier in both my personal and professional life if I put my own needs at least on par with those of others.
I didn’t waste any time, starting off by sticking up for myself at the New Year’s Eve party I went to when someone I had just met started interrogating me about why I didn’t share his views on a certain subject and more than implying my opinion was wrong. Instead of backing down in my usual people-pleasing fashion, I voiced my side of the argument and stuck to my guns.
Now this may not seem like much to someone who doesn’t experience ‘flight’ in the face of conflict, but for those of us who do, we just want to get out of there to make it go away. Us ‘birds’ as I like to refer to us, know how hard it is to fight the primal instinct inside us to escape from a perceived ‘danger’ and instead of backing down to calm the situation, how unnatural it feels to exacerbate the intensity of it by actually engaging in it. Our minds go blank, our hearts start racing, our hands shake, we can feel ourselves blushing and our natural reaction is to do whatever it takes to get out of the highly uncomfortable situation we have somehow found ourselves in.
My fellow feathered friends will understand then how hard it is to react in a way in that moment that is counterintuitive and causes us more distress. Even if we are able to do so at the time, after the fact when that feeling of intense stress has left us, we can feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
Let me tell you what I learnt from that very first experience; short-term pain for long-term gain. When you realise that by standing up for yourself nothing bad is going to happen, that you actually feel better overall than had you let someone walk all over you, that your opinions are no less important or valid than anyone else’s, this will only empower you to be able to practice your assertiveness again when the next occasion arises and it will feel a tiny bit easier each time.
Situations will still arise that feel too big or scary to practice your assertiveness to start with, but whether you start out with your flatmate who never does their dishes, or your colleague who talks a few decibels too loud for you to concentrate, little by little you will find yourself expressing your own needs and opinions more easily and in turn placing more value on them. So my goal for 2017 is to be more like the penguin or the kiwi – flightless birds.