So, the last couple weeks, we talked about being passive and aggressive. In a way, being passive or aggressive is about giving your power away, misusing power or taking someone else’s away. This week, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being assertive. The way I am understanding it, being assertive means landing on and accessing your own power because you are operating within the only realm you really can have control or make a difference: within yourself. Being assertive means being totally accountable for yourself, your experience and how you impact others. David Richo breaks down being assertive into three basic elements: clarity, asking for what you want and taking responsibility. This section of the book is so powerful, I think you just need to read it. What I will do is just pick out some important points that will be helpful to elaborate.
In all the examples of being clear that David Richo sets out, I believe he is really talking about being clear with others about how you feel, who you are and your intentions AND being clear within yourself about how you feel and what you need. For example, he points out that being guarded and defensive doesn’t work in the long run because the truth about how you feel or who you are will be shown eventually, either directly or indirectly. If you think about it, this links to being clear within yourself about how you feel since it would be pretty hard to share your interior world with others if you don’t have a clue about what is going on in there. He says to use your body as an “echo chamber”. Realize how your body responds to people and situations, to food or environments. The body is giving us feedback all the time, all there is to do is tune in to that channel. David Richo says: “An assertive person does what feels good all over. He never responds to some driving message in his mind when his body is telling him that is not the thing to do” (p. 170). Yes, the idea is to listen to what is happening inside, honor that and communicate that with other people clearly and in a loving way.
Asking for what you want
David Richo encourages the assertive person to ask someone what they really mean or feel instead of wondering or trying to guess. This comes up a lot in conversations with my clients and in social conversations. I notice that people, including myself, will spend a considerable amount of time or effort wondering about why someone else is being a certain way. It is totally unnecessary if we have the tools of being assertive. Yes, it can be awkward and scary. But we have a voice and can simply ask that person. David Richo says “a willingness to be embarrassed and awkward is a prerequisite for change” (p. 171).
Also, being assertive means listening to what goes on inside and acknowledging out loud when something is misaligned. For example, an assertive person would discuss their intuition with their partner that something is up rather than asking friends what they think is going on or searching through their partners’ phone. If you think something is going on and your partner denies it, can you still come back with “OK, I still have this gut feeling and it doesn’t seem to be explained by what you are telling me”. The truth always comes to light, it is simply a matter of time. Of course, if you are someone that has been betrayed in the past or your fears tend to surface in the form of being suspicious of your partner, it is important to look at that and not simply say that it is your intuition. And, I do admit, sometimes it is hard to distinguish between fears and real intuition because they are both powerful feelings.
David Richo includes not only sharing yourself in being assertive, but accepting what other people share of themselves. If someone has a complaint, an assertive person listens wholly to that message and really considers what it is like for that person. An assertive person supports and creates space for the assertions of others.
Finally, being assertive means we can respond to how someone is impacting us as well as their intention. I have a good example that happened today. I was working while I was waiting for my car to be serviced and this man was talking loudly on his cell phone. The conversation was interrupting my ability to concentrate. I got up after several minutes and said “Excuse me, do you mind talking on the phone outside? I’m trying to work and it is hard to concentrate”. I did not get angry with him and I also did not allow this to continue and ignore my experience just because I understood his intentions were not malicious. So, we can acknowledge where someone is coming from, but it doesn’t mean we just have to tolerate it. We can let someone know how it is impacting us. In this way, we are being accountable for how we feel. David Richo says: “every negative feeling that is in us will turn into something beautiful when we acknowledge it and accept it” (p. 174). Yes, because it releases what is inside, working with (rather than against) the natural flow that characterizes the emotional regulation system we are programmed with as human beings.
*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".