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
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 for a while.
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 accidentally 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 a nice person without letting other people walk all over him.
This book taught me some good tricks for dealing with people. But I came away feeling like it was a sin to be "not nice." I can see how it's important to be nice if you are a pastor who is trying to keep people in the fold. But isn't being nice with an ulterior motive a little manipulative?
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 the best book, and I often refer my clients to it. 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. After the second CD, I knew I had hit the jackpot. I started having all sorts of realizations about what motivates people and how they get locked into dysfunctional behaviors. These realizations led to more creative dreams.
I woke up one morning with the idea that there are three main emotions that cause people to manipulate and control others:
Envy (desire or greed)
Pride (the flip side of shame)
The hardest one to recognize is the one that is disowned in yourself. The premise of Voice Dialogue is that whatever is out there (in other people) is also inside of you.
Manipulation with Envy
Here's an example of a person who is motivated by 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 am any more "naturally beautiful" than the average person. Then she cut my hair much shorter than I wanted, and she pulled out some of it 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 what they want. 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 and anger 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.
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 by either complimenting you or by making you feel inadequate. If you desire to be thought of as smart or good, people can control you by kissing up, sending you on a guilt trip, or playing mind games with you.
Any egoic desire can be used against you when you lack awareness. You are not a victim of other people. You are only a victim of your own ego. Meditation can help you see where you are stuck.
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."
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 during my assertiveness training:
I spent one year working for 10 minutes per day trying to figure out how to deal with a manipulator. This person was a religious authority who had taken a sudden interest in trying to control my life. I soon found out that I wasn't his only victim. He was doing it to many people under his jurisdiction. He was self-righteous and manipulative - not just openly, but also covertly.
As a psychic, I knew that he was trying to control people's minds because I could literally feel him prying into my mind whenever he was focused on me. Yes, there are bad psychics out there who use their abilities to try to control others. This was rather shocking and scary for me, but it was a good lesson in what not to do with my own psychic abilities.
I realized that the real problem was my desire to be seen as a good person. This was the ego attachment through which he controlled people. So I started thinking rebellious thoughts. I spent 10 minutes per day writing my rebellious thoughts in a notebook. I wrote them as if I were talking back to him directly.
I eventually 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 an abusive childhood with hyper-religious parents who expected me to be perfect and punished me in extreme ways for tiny infractions.
As I filled up the notebook over the course of the year, I noticed a pattern. The anger slowly dissipated as I moved into a more mature voice. I went from lashing out to rational arguments. Eventually, I ended up in 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.
Yang Compassion and Assertiveness
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 I am a free spirit.
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? A year later, I got divorced and left organized religion. Of course, I didn't know that the year of assertiveness training was preparing me for that outcome. But I couldn't have moved forward with my life without changing my energy first. Energy precedes action. We have invisible buttons that manipulators use to control us. When I changed my energy and developed boundaries to replace the buttons, my outer life changed. The religious authority stopped bothering me, even though I never actually confronted him face to face. I only had to confront him in my own mind. He represented a voice inside of me - the Inner Patriarch - that I had to stand up to. But my work wasn't over yet. I still had to confront my Inner Critic, which I did after another abusive relationship a couple years later.
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 that we work on a little every day. Even 10 minutes a day can be very productive. So keep up the good work :)
Here's a guided meditation for helping you learn what it feels like to be grounded in your own energy and your own power. It's a good grounding meditation for empaths or anyone who needs help setting boundaries and being more assertive.
As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
Copyright (c) Self-Compassion Coaching with Diane Linsley. All rights reserved.