Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Art of Assertive Communication

Most of us have poor communication skills – at least at times. Sometimes we choose our words to manipulate, people please, control, cover up or alleviate guilt. Our communication attests to unconscious feelings, repressed thoughts, low self-worth or shame. We often justify, rationalize, compensate and talk all around the block without getting to the point. We can be unassertive. We can badger and threaten. Sometimes we lie. Often we’re hostile or even abusive. We may apologize a lot, or just hint at what we want and need.

Women, especially are indirect in much of our communication. Men are usually more direct, but often they’re so blunt that it’s too hurtful to get the message across well.

We don’t communicate so poorly on purpose. We do it because we’ve learned this approach at some point in our lives. Either in our childhood or adult family, we learned it was wrong to talk about problems, express our feelings or opinions, or we learned ineffective ways of doing so. Some of us learned it was wrong to directly state what we want and need. Many learned it was definitely wrong to say no, and to stand up for ourselves.

Some of us may be afraid because we’re not sure who we are and what we want to say. Many of us have been inhibited and controlled by family rules. Some of us had to follow these rules to protect ourselves – to survive. However, many of us are afraid to tell people who we are because we don’t believe it’s OK to be who we are.

Communication is not mystical. The words we speak reflect who we are: what we think, judge, feel, value, honor, love, hate, fear, want, believe in, and commit to. If we think we’re not good enough, our communication will reflect this – no always in the actual words we speak, but it will come across. We will judge others as having all the answers. We’ll feel hurt, angry, scared, guilty and controlled by others. We will want to control others or value pleasing others at any cost. Or we’ll fear disapproval and abandonment. We will hope for everything but believe we deserve and will get nothing. We’re often committed to being responsible for other people’s feelings and behavior. We’re jammed with negative feelings and thoughts.

Talking openly and clearly is not difficult. But we have to start with knowing that who we are is OK. Our feelings and thoughts are OK and our opinions count. It’s OK to talk about our problems, and it’s OK to say “no”.

We can be assertive and stand up for ourselves without being abrasive or aggressive. Learn to say, “This is as far as I go. This is my limit. I will not tolerate this.” and mean it!

Talking is a tool. We talk to express ourselves. We talk to be listened to. Talking enables us to understand ourselves and helps us understand others. Maybe we don’t always have something earth-shattering to say, but we want the contact with people – to share and be close. We sometimes talk to take care of ourselves – to make it clear we will not be bullied or abused or that we love ourselves enough to make decisions in our own best interest.

We need to take responsibility for our communication. Let our words reflect self-esteem and esteem for others. Be honest, Be direct. Be open. Come from a gentle and loving place. Be firm when the situation calls for it.

But above all, be who we are and say what we need to say.

Betrayal of Relationships

The following hit home for me because of some issues my family is dealing with currently. It was written for significant, partner relationships. But it fits all relationships. I think mothers, or care-givers especially will see themselves here. Although I like to give credit, I have no idea where I came across this – I believe it comes from a meditation book. I hope it’s helpful for you. At the end*, I have listed some questions I ask myself on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to do the same.

It’s a betrayal of a relationship to sacrifice self-care.

It is truly loving to take care of ourselves. If we regularly feel too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, or too ill to enjoy the rewards of friendship and emotional contact with our partner, then we are dropping our part of the bargain.

We have an obligation to notice our own needs, to look after ourselves like a treasured friend, and to make room for our needs with others. That does not mean “me first,” but it means there is room for everyone. If we constantly defer to others’ needs, we may be present only in body, not in spirit. True intimacy cannot occur when one person is an empty shell. When we speak up to each other, our needs will naturally conflict at times. That is a sign of vitality, so we search for solutions that make room for both persons’ needs. A basic rule for intimate relationships: We will pay each other the honor of saying what we want and need, and then talk about it to make room for our differences.

*Spend a few minutes to think of a personal need and how you are taking care of it. How are you communicating it to others? Or ARE you communicating it to others? Are you accepting of yourself, even though you have this need? Are you allowing yourself time during each day to nurture yourself in this area? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “I’m not” or “I don’t know,” then you’ve found an area that needs work – not only for your life, but for the health of your relationships!

The Shift from Attachment to Letting Go

One of the reasons I love Wayne Dyer’s writing so much is because he seems to connect to some of the same lessons I’ve experienced over my life. Having been in the recovery field and having worked my own program for so many years, I’ve learned to love some of those 12-Step Slogans. Each slogan by itself may seem trite, but in the context of immersing yourself into the program it can take on so much meaning. My favorite has always been Let Go and Let God.

Below are some excerpts from Dr. Dyer’s book THE SHIFT, Taking Your Life From Ambition to Meaning that explain his perception of this concept:

Perhaps the greatest lessons of my life have revolved around the slogan of the recovery movement: “Let go and let God” – a notion that involves relinquishing ego’s attachment to, or fear of, something. The single most pronounced attachment for most of us during the morning of our lives is the attachment to being right! . . . Letting go of an attachment to being right is a fairly simple exercise.

The choice to let go and let God, in a quest to eliminate our attachment to being right, is simplified with these few words: You’re right about that. But keep in mind that kindness and sincerity are necessary here, as opposed to sarcasm or insincerity. . . .

Another way to easily practice breaking ego’s attachment is to clear out the garage, cupboards, and closets. Let go of material possessions, and practice not being attached to them. If they haven’t been used in the past 12 months, they belong elsewhere. . . .

Most stress results from hanging on to beliefs that keep us striving for more, because ego stubbornly refuses to believe we don’t need something. When we make the shift . . . we replace attachment with contentment. Chasing and striving – and then becoming attached to what we chased after – is a source of anxiety that invigorates Ambition, but it won’t satisfy the need for Meaning at our soul level. . . .

Do Something

When something is troubling you, that’s your cue to take positive action to receive it. That may seem obvious, yet far too often it’s a choice that is overlooked or avoided.

The discomfort you feel is attempting to tell you something. It’s time to do what you can, what you must.

If the troubling situation is within your power to change, then do what’s necessary to make it better. If it is something you cannot change, then take steps within your own life to put yourself out of reach of the negative consequences.

If resolving the issue will take considerable time, don’t let that stop you. The sooner you get started, the more firmly in control you’ll be.

Not only does it feel lousy to be worried and anxious, it does nothing to improve the situation. So choose to re-direct that negative energy into positive action.

Do something about it, and instead of being a helpless victim you suddenly become a powerful force for change. You’ll quickly discover that it’s a much better place to be.

-Ralph Marston

Facing Fears

I’ve been struggling with facing a fear this week – something another person and I are needing to do. Very often when we’re on the front side of something like this, it’s “False Evidence Appearing Real”, and what makes it so scary is the unknown factor that we tend to blow out of proportion. But what I’m needing to face is a very real possibility. As I visualize any probable outcome of the action we’re about to take, none are what I would want. So I know in my head that it will be what it’s supposed to be, like it or not, but I haven’t been able to wrap my heart around it and truly accept it yet.

It’s been almost paralyzing. Sometimes I can’t seem to manage mundane tasks that are usually quick and easy to accomplish. I just don’t have enough emotional space to perform these tasks. At other times, I find myself delving into my day with a vengeance – trying to lose myself in it – so I don’t have to think or feel. I’m grateful for the work I do at times like this. It allows me to get outside my own head and care about others’ concerns. That usually helps me put things in perspective.

I’m also grateful for the support system I have in place. I can talk openly and honestly about what I’m feeling without fear of judgment – or unsolicited advice. My friends and family know there is no “good” answer” to this issue, and they know what I need most is their love and prayers.

I know I’ll get there, but right now, I just need to sit and allow myself to feel the fear. If I don’t give myself that opportunity, I know I’ll turn to old unhealthy coping mechanisms – like emotional eating, or just living in denial and trying to stay above the emotion. I also know if I allow that to happen, I’ll eventually get to a self destructive place, and it won’t be pretty.

So this is what courage is about. Doing what you know you have to do, even though it scares you to death. One of my favorite quotes is “Courage is only courage when you’re afraid”. Sounds so easy. It’s not.

A friend sent me an email this week that sums it up very well:

‘To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.’ When God takes something from your grasp, He’s not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better. Concentrate on this sentence… ‘The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.’