Tuesday, September 09, 2008


msn encarta dictionary:
as·ser·tive [ ə súrtiv ]
1. acting confidently: confident in stating a position or claim
Modern education encourages the assertive student.
2. strong and pronounced: forcefully strong and noticeable

Wikipedia, the free Encyclopidia:
Assertiveness is a trait taught by many personal development experts and psychotherapists and the subject of many popular self-help books. It is linked to self-esteem and considered an important communication skill.

As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries; their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to harm or otherwise unduly influence them. They are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by not being afraid to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. They are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions.

How do you rank?
I was raised Mennonite. Assertiveness; easily confused with, or connected to aggression; was not encouraged. We were about passivity. We were about believing that people of influence were right, to be trusted, and not to be overtly questioned. That made things tidy and uncomplicated for our teachers, administraters, preachers, doctors, and politicians.

That was then; and this is now.

But the cloak of assertion wears clumsily on me. Guilt follows closely on its' heels as I evaluate and re-evaluate on whether it was indeed assertion, or its dreaded cousin; aggression. The desire to please people and keep the peace, even at the cost of my real beliefs and convictions wars in my body.

I tend to think that this awkwardness comes from attempting to learn assertion as a new skill. A new language. If I had grown up learning the language of appropriate assertiveness, would I be less hyper-sensitive to the affects it has on people around me; whether perceived or real? Have I so defined myself in keeping others happy that I suffer guilt for advocating for myself or my children? Is it the ol' Menno-Martyr syndrome rearing its covered head?

Sticking my virtual neck out here. Anyone brave enough to leave a comment about your own experiences and mistakes along the way of learning to be a little more forward; a little less of a doormat?


christine said...

your post resonated with me Joyce. Assertion is certainly something I feel the need to study and practice, as it doesn't come naturally for me AT ALL. However, in the last month I've honestly seen a small seed of change sprout and grow within me. A specific incident to share was last week when I spoke up at a "family get together... turned INTERVENTION" (-around the discussion of my brother's health) Letting it all out and shocking the heck out of my parents (and myself), I finally expressed the words and feelings that had been bouncing around in my brain for years- I didn't wait for validation or agreement, I just spoke honestly, kindly but firmly...and didn't worry about "how it might sound". It was out of love and the fear that things would never change. It felt wonderful to be forthright and push for my opinion instead of just keeping quiet because it would have been easier or what was expected. Turns out because of my abrupt honestly, my brother is considering rehab.....
and considering is a beautiful word. I think next time it will be that much easier.....

joyce said...

So good when an exercise in assertiveness turns out so very positively. I am proud of you.

Karla said...

For me, the menno-martyr syndrome rears its head in a bit of a different, yet similar, way. It's the whole conflict of being "giving, generous, and selfless" vs "self-preservation". I've been working at training myself to not succumb to the guilt when I decline to help someone when it's not convenient, it will add stress to my help, or when I just don't want to. That is a change in thinking for me, and as with being assertive, guilt follows not to far behind. I am looking at it as being assertive to protect my mental health and well-being first, and thinking of others second. This doesn't really fit with the pattern of "christian-mennonite martyrdom" that so many of us live in the shadows of.

Romeo Morningwood said...

Great post Joyce.
I'm running late but I can't go and bite my tongue all day!
Mennomartyrdomitis, and others, have elevated passive-aggressiveness to a science. Since self preservation is our strongest natural impulse, this sort of behavior causes uber stress.

Release comes in the form of gossip...and for the fortunate, guilt. Pacifism is completely unnatural and none of us would be here today if it was..for instance, if everyone had taken this stance during WW2, we'd all be speaking 'high' German.

A huge part of the problem is the confusion between self esteem and megalomania..it's OK to load up our kids with the first..really, they'll need lots of it to ignore all the gossip.

Anonymous said...

Joyce you know I struggle with putting words on paper...Today I have to say I'm on your page.I love you and support you.My hope is that the guilt train will have NO place in your head.You go girl.Love you,Kathy

Anonymous said...

I tried the assertiveness route - been there, done that and if I can help it won't try it again. It's hard enough people (family) thinking I'm nothing but assertiveness on my part makes me a target for their abuse so I try as best as I can to keep my mouth shut.

joyce said...

oooh, that sounds painful.

Anonymous said...

For me, assertiveness is a part of my personality and it comes quite naturally to speak my mind. (I suppose I somehow escaped the menno-martyr syndrome.) The part that is unnatural is speaking my mind with love and a concern for others. It's not about being a bull in a china shop, but rather courageous enough to see truth reign in a world of lies. The Lord commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous (Josh. 1:7)and David proclaimed that it was the Lord who made him bold and stouthearted (Ps. 138:3). It takes courage to be assertive and stand on your convictions. But it is possible with the Lord. I don't mean to preach, but truth comes from the Lord and his word and that is what I cling to. So "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love." (1 Cor. 16:13)

Crystal said...

Good post Joyce.

This is a tough one. I've been ALL over the map with this...sometimes with success, sometimes PAINFULLY without. But with each try, I get better at distinguishing which battles are meant to be fought and which I should just let go.

I hope you have success in finding your way Joyce.

Roo said...

assertive. hmmm...is there a good reason (ya think?) that the first 3 letters start off the way that they do? ;)

i just had a little "confrontation" on the streets of the ville. my eye spied 2 small "friends" wandering their way home from school. i say the word "friends" loosely cuz it was ALL TOO apparent that one little friend thought it fun and funny to abuse the other. it made me mad. and so i had to add my 2 cents. which ended up being more like 75 cents by the time i was through.


Judy said...

I tried, but erased it.

Still too painful to write about.

Soon, though. Very soon.