Secrets of Assertiveness
by Diane Linsley

A few years ago, I realized that a person can be highly aware and
still have problems with people who try to control and manipulate
them. So I decided to research this subject.

The Assertiveness Books

I started out by reading When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J.
Smith. It begins with The Bill of Assertive Rights. The first item
on the list is the core belief upon which all the others hinge: "You
have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts and emotions,
and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself." Stop and think about that.

Although I learned some important things from Smith's book, I felt like it was woefully incomplete. He presents a few tactics for dealing with manipulative people, but he seems to believe that those people are jerks. While that may appear to be the case when you are feeling angry, the fact is that normal people sometimes display controlling and manipulative behavior when they are stressed or fearful.

It's important to assert yourself when other people cross your boundaries. If someone isn't willing to change his behavior, you may want to reconsider being in a relationship with him. Narcissists violate boundaries repeatedly.

The next book I read was Too Nice for Your Own Good by Duke Robinson. The author is a pastor, so the book is written from the perspective of someone who needs to be nice without letting other people walk all over him. I learned some good tricks for dealing with people, but I came away feeling like it was a sin to be "not nice."

Then I read The Guide to Compassionate Assertiveness by Sherrie Vavricheck. At that point, I began to suspect that there's more to assertiveness than just playing word games to defend yourself without hurting anyone's feelings. This book teaches you how to be aware of your own feelings and motives. It is less focused on the actions of other people.

This is more empowering than worrying about what the other person is going to do and how you are going to react. But like the previous books, it is incomplete. What if there's a bully in your life, and you have to take definitive action?

Finally, I read Who's Pulling Your Strings? by Harriet Braiker. This is my favorite book, and I often recommend it to clients. It makes the victim responsible for ending manipulation, which puts an end to victimhood. It teaches you how to stop being a target by strengthening yourself.

It describes different types of manipulators and their motives. It gives you permission to stop being nice. Nice people are easy targets because they reward bad behavior.

Awareness and Assertiveness

In the midst of all this studying, I began having dreams. This is my way of processing ideas and coming up with creative solutions. To my surpise, I wasn't always playing the part of the victim in my dreams. In some dreams, I was the manipulator. I woke up after one such dream thinking, "Whoa! That can't be me. I would never act like that."

Then I realized that the dream was allowing me to experience the thoughts and emotions of another person. I realized that you can't deal effectively with someone if you can't take their perspective. You need to know what motivates them.

This realization led me to the next step in my assertiveness training. I bought a set of Voice Dialogue CDs by Hal and Sidra Stone called The Aware Ego. By the second CD, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. I started to understand what motivates people and how they get locked into dysfunctional behaviors.

Voice Dialogue is a fabulous way to do shadow work. The premise of Voice Dialogue is that whatever is out there (in other people) is also inside of you. I learned that there's no such thing as a bad voice. All voices have both an immature and a mature form. When a voice first appears, it's usually in the immature form. As you work with a voice, it becomes more mature.

For example, the voice of Anger can either be immature or mature - or somewhere in between. I often work with clients who disown the voice of Anger because they believe it's wrong to feel angry. After speaking with the voice of Anger, they realize that it's a valuable voice. The mature voice of Anger often gives them good advice that helps them solve their problems. Assertiveness is about using the voice of Anger in a mature way.

Here are some examples of how people manipulate others and what motivates them:

Manipulation with Envy

I once went to a hairdresser who said, "You are lucky to be naturally beautiful." Something in her tone of voice bothered me. I don't think I'm any more "naturally beautiful" than the average person. Then she cut my hair much shorter than I wanted, and she pulled out some by the roots, which was quite painful. Needless to say, I never went back.

Other people are more sophisticated than the hairdresser. They remind me of charismatic salesmen - all smiles and niceness. But if you look closely, you will see a pattern of behavior that's not so nice. It can be difficult to say "No" to these people because they are used to getting their way. They have poor boundaries and little compassion for others - just lots of charm and "niceness." They get what they want by buttering you up and playing games.

The way to immunize yourself against this behavior is to get over your own need for ego gratification. When you reach the point where nothing that anyone says has the power to trigger your ego by either pleasing or displeasing you, then you are free.

Manipulation with Fear

Some people live in fear, worrying about anything that could possibly go wrong. They try to cope with this fear by controlling everyone around them. They think that controlling others will make them feel more secure. Being around these people feels like being sucked into a bottomless pit of despair.

The way to avoid being controlled by fearful people is to face your own fears. Then you will see more clearly how to help others without being codependent. Or you can walk away and let them deal with their own problems. I've been trapped in relationships with negative people because I felt sorry for them, and I thought it was my job to fix them. When I finally realized what their negativity was doing to me, I left. And I don't regret it.

Manipulation with Pride

Finally, there are people who try to control others because they think they are more intelligent or righteous than everyone else, which somehow gives them the right to boss other people around. Their attitude is so insulting and demeaning that it triggers feelings of shame in others.

These people gain control by making you feel inferior, so you must work on your self-esteem. You must also be honest with yourself. Do you ever act like them (unconsciously, of course)? If so, you will keep attracting them into your life. Remember your assertive rights, and respect the rights of others.

People who think they are more intelligent or righteous than you cannot be convinced otherwise. So it's useless to argue with them. Learn to say "No" without feeling guilty. Self-righteous people are masters of manipulation by guilt. They can be demanding and perfectionistic. But it's all a cover-up for their own shame. Shame is the flip side of pride.

"Care what other people think and you will always be their prisoner." ~Lao Tzu

People are Mirrors

People act as mirrors to our own egos. Ultimately, you must come to terms with your own feelings of envy, fear and shame. Otherwise, you will continue to be a victim of other people's emotion-driven efforts to control and manipulate you.

In reality, there is only one thing that controls you - your own desires. If you desire to be thought of as nice or beautiful, people can use this desire against you either by complimenting you or by making you feel inadequate. If you desire to be thought of as smart or good, people can manipulate you by playing mind games with you, kissing up, or sending you on a guilt trip.

Any egoic desire can be used against you when you lack awareness. You are not a victim of other people. You are a victim of your own ego. Meditation can help you see where you are stuck.

People can also manipulate you through your unmet needs. What needs do you expect other people to fulfill? Those are your weak spots. I suggest making a list of all your needs (financial, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), and working towards meeting as many of them as possible by yourself.

No adult should be expected to meet the needs of another adult. If you are trying to meet the needs of others, you are codependent. If you are expecting others to meet your needs, you are giving away your power. Healthy adult relationships are about voluntary exchange, not neediness and dependency.

Here's a quote that I picked up somewhere: "Pessimists blame others for their problems. Optimists hope others will fix them. Realists take responsibility for their own lives and do their personal growth work."

Practicing Assertiveness

With enough awareness, you'll know what to do in the moment. But it takes many years to get to that point. Meanwhile, here's what I did for assertiveness training:

I spent one year working for 10 minutes per day trying to figure out how to deal with a manipulator who was trying to control me. Eventually, I realized that the real problem was my desire to be seen as a good person. This was the ego attachment through which many people had controlled me throughout my life. So I started thinking rebellious thoughts. I spent 10 minutes every day writing my rebellious thoughts in a notebook. I wrote them as if I were talking back to him directly.

I soon realized that I was doing a form of Voice Dialogue. The voice that I was writing from was an angry voice that had been repressed all my life due to having controlling parents who expected me to be perfect and punished me harshly for tiny infractions.

As I filled up the notebook over the course of the year, I noticed a pattern. The intense anger slowly dissipated as the voice of Anger became more mature. I went from lashing out to rational arguments. Eventually, I went to the voice of Yang compassion, which is the ability to stand up for myself without fear or anger. It's a strong, peaceful place that is solid and grounded.

The last thing I wrote in my notebook was, "My life is none of your business." But it's not the words that matter. It's the energy with which I wrote them. There was no anger or fear in my energy. I was simply stating a fact. My life is not anyone else's business because my soul is free.

As I was waking up the next morning, I heard my spirit guide's voice in my head say, "Congratulations. You passed Assertiveness 101. Now it's time for Assertiveness 102."

Well, personal growth never ends, does it?

Assertiveness is not about other people. It's about confronting our own shadows. Abusers are always out there, but they only attack people who are easy targets - like the lion who attacks the weak gazelle in the herd. Assertiveness training is about becoming a strong gazelle.

Mastery of new skills doesn't happen overnight. It's something we work on a little every day. Even 10 minutes a day can be productive.

Here's a video on how diet affects your mental health and your ability to stand up for yourself.

Here's a guided meditation to help you learn what it feels like to be grounded in your own energy and power. It's a grounding meditation for empaths or anyone who needs help setting boundaries and being more assertive.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
interested in coaching with me.


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