As a young woman or adult woman, it is very important that you honour yourself by not allowing yourself to be abused. Perhaps the reason why you were abused as an adult was because you weren’t able to say no to your abuser. Or maybe your abuse occurred when you were a child or young woman. It’s a different story if you were a child when you were abused, because children aren’t able to be assertive with adults – they don’t feel they have the right to be, or they know they aren’t allowed to be for fear of the consequences if they are. When it comes to sexual abuse, they have no knowledge of the difference between right and wrong (apart from the fact that they don’t feel that what is happening should be happening), so children don’t speak up for themselves like they would if they were older. Adults often slip into abuse because they have an inability to say NO, or in the past when they have said NO, they have not been heard.
The desire to speak your truth comes from an inner need for more freedom, and this means having more independence and control over all the areas of your life. To have total freedom you will need to develop an assertive personality, one that does not allow others to impose their intentions on you should that not be your desire, and one that is able to make things happen so that life gives you what you want.
Basically, having an assertive personality boils down to being totally centered and contained within yourself, and not leaning out into the world looking for acceptance from sources outside of yourself. It means that the greater majority of the time you are calm and relaxed, with very few events that are happening around you pushing you off-balance. It sometimes comes naturally to those people who have been properly nurtured and supported while growing up, but for those that haven’t you will need to develop this attribute yourselves.
From the moment we are born we are told what to do, how to do it and when to get it done. We are taught to conform, to fit in and to be a part of society. All the structures around us, from governments to religious and educational institutions want to make sure that we do. They set rules and regulations that are so stifling that in the end the people just acquiesce and go along simply because they would rather not think about, rally against or fight these laws. But if you desire to free yourself of the imposed shackles of these societal institutions you will need to develop your own viewpoints, know what you want and be able to ask for it. Part of becoming free is being able to go against the status quo and to take an individual stand on life.
The setbacks and restrictions you face along the way strengthen you, and although they may feel overpowering at times, in overcoming them you develop an individuality that defines you and sets you apart from others. So if you find that you have experienced much opposition in your life try not to see it as such a bad thing. If you have been able to go beyond those forces that were set against you, you will have developed persistence, tenacity and strength. These three characteristics will give you the power to manifest whatever you want out of life.
To further develop your assertiveness you must see yourself in a non-judgmental way and not criticise or condemn yourself for what you do or have done, or what you don’t do or haven’t done. Eventually you should become able to look at all of your life, see it for what it is, and be accepting of and know who you are. You may desire to make changes to aspects of whom and what you are, but basically you are settled in the knowledge that this will come with time and is something that you are quite capable of doing.
Assertiveness is the ability to take yourself out into the world and be who you are with those around you, whilst at the same time not being pushed off centre by their reaction to you. If you are assertive you can be yourself, talk about your life, have opinions of your own and not be attached to whether or not other people accept you for those things. You can basically leave it up to others to react to you in whatever way they choose to react. And, when you have truly mastered detachment their reaction will not matter to you.
If you cannot do this then you are not allowing the beauty that is within you to be free to be. You will be projecting to the world that you have no worth, no value or no capabilities. This is basically fear, and as the saying goes ‘a life lived in fear is a life half-lived’. The first part of assertiveness then is to accept yourself as you are, wherever and however that may be. If you are around someone who makes you feel ‘less than’ in some way, ask yourself ‘what is it about this person that intimidates me?’ When you have worked this out you will then discover an area within you that you need to accept. For example, if someone asks you out and you feel that you can’t accept because you aren’t good enough for that person, ask yourself ‘what is it that is holding me back?’ If it happens to be that they are very wealthy and you aren’t, then you will need to work on accepting that you have value to offer without having to have loads of money. Once you can do this for yourself on all levels, you should also give those around you the very same acceptance.
Next, assertiveness requires you to have very clearly defined goals in life and that you know what your purpose is. If you have no idea about these things you will not be able to become assertive. If you do not know what you want the first step to take is to work out what you don’t want from life until you have narrowed down your list to what you do want from life. Underlying what you want will be your reason for being here. If you are able to define this you will be able to assertively say no to those things in life that you do not want that go against your purpose, and assertively speak up for those things that you do want in life that fit in with your purpose.
In order to strengthen your self-image never put yourself down. It is very important that once you begin to develop an assertive personality that you always speak of yourself in a positive manner. In doing so you will begin to create around you a shroud of serene strength that does not invite those people into your experience that are likely to try to take advantage of you. You don’t have to brag and you don’t have to boast, but you should be happy to say to someone ‘I am a very good cook’ because your whole family enjoys each and every meal that you serve them. Or ‘I am a terrific seamstress’, because the clothes you make are top quality garments and you know it to be a fact. Or, ‘I was the smartest accountant to graduate in my class’ because you received honours and much recognition at your graduation. It is simply a mental discipline of watching yourself speak and catching yourself when you say something that puts you down. It just takes practice.
You will then begin to exude self-worth, a quality that is sadly lacking in many people, purely because they have taken on the opinions of others, or because of the treatment that they have experienced in the process of going through life. You have to reach the point where you can walk away from the judgments and criticisms of those around you and not be affected by them, and where you can stamp out from your life those people that are going to treat you with anything other than respect. Once you exude self-worth, developing the skills of clear and precise communication will enable you to control the behaviour of most of your clients.
Many people were never taught how to set boundaries and how to say no, and at various times in their lives they have had their own boundaries invaded by parents, friends and/or lovers. This places them in a weak position while dealing with the people in their lives. If you haven’t already, it is very important that you learn to set boundaries, as this will form the foundation that will allow you to remain in control when dealing with your abuser or with those who could potentially become abusers. Also, applying assertiveness at the appropriate moment and to the right degree is an aspect of setting boundaries that should also be developed.
How this is done incorporates body language, voice projection and knowing where the limits are to your boundaries. It involves being able to get the words you want to say out of your mouth. It involves being able to say “No, I don’t want that,” or when you really get good at being assertive you’ll be able to say “Dad, you sexually abused me and you know it. Admit it, for God’s sake.” Good communication skills help you to deliver your boundaries in a way that does not provoke resentment while at the same time insists that the person you are talking with show respect for you. The combination of being able to set boundaries and being able to say what they are in a non-aggressive manner will place a person in good control of most of the situations that arise in his or her life.
Setting your boundaries does not mean being confrontational. It requires that you have a healthy self-respect that allows you to insist on being treated properly and/or paid accordingly in a work situation, through using good communication skills as opposed to aggression. I have seen some people create a confrontation with others in an effort to prove something, but this is aggression rather than assertiveness. Insisting on being right in an aggressive manner may make you feel good, but it does nothing to help the situation. If you are at school, being aggressive just makes you a bully, or in the case of being self-employed, it does nothing to help the growth of your business and does not make your client feel like they have received value for money. Your success no matter where you are in life relies on making sure that the person you are talking with feels supported by you.
The Taoist way is to walk away if the person you are talking to is attempting to create conflict. If the situation requires you to be assertive in order to remain in control do so in a non-threatening way. Your ability to remain calm in the face of aggression or conflict will determine your level of control. It is wise not to add fuel to the fire when you can feel that there is a tense situation developing. If you are in an employment situation, it is better just to stay quiet, finish your work and leave calmly. Within yourself, work on clearing your own emotional issues and you will be able to stay calm.
Let us look at a few practical strategies on setting boundaries and delivering those boundaries using good communication skills. If you are a mother you can practice these skills with your children initially, and then later go on to face your abuser if you need to deal with a past issue. Once you have decided what you will tolerate and what you won’t from your kids, practice delivering the message in a calm manner, and following through with the boundaries you have set with them. It’s the most difficult of all situations to work with, so well done if you have even the smallest levels of success with kids. Adults are much easier to practice on, and situations where this can be done are ones such as these:
- Your church friends keep asking you to help them out, even though you are exhausted and don’t have the time or energy. Practice saying no to them. This will begin to strengthen your level of assertiveness.
- Your girlfriend keeps asking to borrow money but never pays it back. Practice saying no. Just say no, without an explanation. If you fuss about trying to give a false explanation as to why you won’t lend her any money, she will know that you feel uncomfortable in saying no, and will push until you say yes. Just say no.
- If, for example, you run your own cleaning business, decide what rates to charge for the different cleaning services you need to stay within these boundaries with every client that you deal with so that you get used to setting boundaries and keeping to them. If you are asked to do extra work and the rate that you are charging does not cover these extra requests then just look your client in the eye and say ‘I can certainly do those things for you during a Spring-Clean. Would you like to order a Spring-Clean, Mrs Jones?’ If they ask again, just repeat your offer to do a Spring-Clean. Then, if they insist that you do the work they want without ordering a Spring-Clean, you simply say ‘no, these services will need to be charged at a higher rate’ clearly, calmly and without emotion. Stating what you will or won’t do for the fee that the client is paying needs to be done clearly and precisely, without any negative emotion. Good communication only becomes aggression if you add negative emotion to your delivery of what you are trying to say.
Over a period of time your aura will begin to exude an ‘I cannot be easily controlled or taken advantage of’ feeling about it, and when you say ‘no’ to the people around you, they will know that you mean what you say. They will, on an unconscious level, know that your ‘no’ means ‘no’. You will find then that fewer and fewer people try to push you to do things that once before you would find yourself doing but feeling resentful of because you really didn’t want to do those things in the first place. A really nice thing begins to happen. People can feel that they can’t manipulate you, so they don’t try. Occasionally you will run into someone who likes to railroad people into doing what they want, and under these circumstances you will need to be more firm with this type of person, but with practice you will find that you can even handle them as well.
Practice saying no whenever somebody in your life (outside the boundaries of good business relations) asks you to do something that you would normally say yes to doing. Just say no for the sake of learning to say no. It may feel awkward and difficult to begin with but after time you will learn how to say no without feeling any guilt or obligation around it. Then practice asking for what you want. This may also be difficult to begin with, but once again with time even this will become easy. Practice speaking up for yourself too. If someone pushes in when you are waiting to be served at the shop, speak up for yourself and say ‘I was next, thank you’. Begin to claim your right to enjoy all the benefits of being a worthy individual.
Assertiveness can become an integral part of your being, if you take the time to develop it and to make your life special. It is only a matter of focusing on developing those skills, and with time anything can be learned and achieved.
My teacher on these matters was Stuart Wilde. Stuart died in May 2013, but his teachings are timeless. He was the most powerful metaphysician in the world while he was alive, and his main philosophy was learned from Taoism, with excerpts from many other religious philosophies as well. You can read more of his teachings at www.stuartwilde.com