The pattern that women are presented with in the Christian church, and which they are encouraged to follow, is of a woman – Mary, the Mother of Jesus – who is relentlessly kind, understanding, empathetic, good at listening, forgiving, sacrificing, protecting. She turns the other cheek, remains calm in the face of provocation, never loses her temper, is never unfair. She is content to be overlooked, to take second place, to meet aggression passively.

“… she has become a stereotype of passivity in the face of challenge, of self-sacrifice at the expense of one’s soul care, and of quietude to the point of hiding in the shadow of others.”

The Real Mary, Scot McKnight

I struggle with this vision of what a woman should aspire to be. In the past a desire to live up to these standards has made me feel I have no option but to keep quiet, forgive without an apology, smooth over other people’s angry outbursts, put up with damaging and abusive situations and take the fault on myself, absorb my own anger and turn it inwards on myself.

We do not live in a ideal world, and in our real, fallen, world we have to deal with people who do not wish us well. We have to deal with people who would love to see us trip up and fall, who would delight in our mistakes, who would rather we disappeared, for whom we are the impediment that prevents them from achieving a relationship they desire or a position they covet.

I used to believe that, if I was relentlessly nice and kind, everything would turn out alright in the end. But I no longer believe that. No amount of love will necessarily change a person bent on someone else’s destruction. In fact, their destruction is often so essential to the psychic survival of the other person, that the perpetrator is unlikely to be aware that they even have a choice of how to behave. The nicer I am, the more irritating I am to my foe, and the more they want to destroy me. So they turn the aggression up. The hotter it becomes, the harder I try to absorb it all, until finally I give up. Rather than fight back (which I see as a victory for them) I turn my back and walk away. I cannot see that fighting back is going to solve anything except to increase the aggression. Besides, I will feel bad about my behaviour judged against my perfect pattern.

There have been many occasions in the past and recently when every fibre of my being was screaming “F**K OFF!”. But I didn’t, because my moral code told me that it was neither good nor Christian to do so.

I do not have an answer. I wish I did.

Assert Yourself!
by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC as published in The Godly Business Woman magazine’s November/December, 2000 issue.

As a Christian it’s difficult to decide when to stand up for your “reasonable rights” and state your opinion, or when to go the extra mile considering others’ interests. You may end up apologizing for someone else’s mistakes. When someone spills their coffee on you- do you say you’re sorry for being in the wrong place? When someone puts you down- do you pretend you’re deaf? When others openly state their values and beliefs- you keep quiet rationalizing that “the Holy spirit didn’t lead you to say anything”?

If you’re lucky and happen to have a very attentive listener, he or she may understand your thoughts and feelings and draw them out of you. If you’re not lucky, you and your opinion will be overlooked because you kept quiet. Whether you tend to be indirect, aggressive or passive your relationships aren’t satisfying and issues aren’t resolved. Assertiveness doesn’t leave communication or issues in relationships up to chance.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a way of confronting the unpleasant or difficult without getting squashed or squashing others in the process. When you use assertiveness you can negotiate reasonable changes by stating directly what you think, feel and want. Assertiveness builds intimacy, solves interpersonal problems and increases honesty, requests and refusals in your relationships.

Assertiveness is biblical! Paul writes about the importance of “speaking the truth in love” and “speaking truthfully to your neighbor” in Ephesians 4, verses15 and 29. In John 4:17-18 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband”. (NIV) Pretty direct, huh?

Of course, you can choose any number of alternatives to assertiveness. You can fake your feelings, suffer silently, retreat from others, manipulate them or demand your way. Ultimately these options are self-defeating and harmful to relationships.

Paraphrasing

One of the keys to making assertiveness work for you while making it palatable for others is to combine it with active listening. Active listening involves hearing and paraphrasing back what someone says to you. Make certain that your paraphrase is brief and includes the facts and feelings the person is expressing. It gives you the opportunity to pick up on their viewpoints and continue the dialogue. You don’t have to agree with their opinions, but active listening will show that you value and respect them. This will increase the odds that others will take time to listen to you.

Begin summarizing what people say to you with these phrases:

“In other words”
“Let me get this straight”
“So you felt that”
“What I hear you saying is”
“If I understand you correctly”
“Would you say that?”
“Do I understand you to mean?”

Assertiveness Skills

The most difficult aspect of communication comes when you take the risk to talk about your opinions, feelings and needs. Don’t let fear hold you back! Pray and ask the Lord to give you the courage to “speak the truth in love.” St. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) Who strengthens me”. (NIV) As a Christian, you have the greatest spiritual power in the world residing within you to help you speak up within the bounds of love.

Learning assertive communication skills is the next step. Here are some examples of assertiveness which will help you express your opinions, confront others, state your feelings or make requests:

Stating your preference or opinion; “My preference is______.””What I’d like is______”
Expressing you feelings; “I feel_______when ______________”
Making requests: “This movie is not what I hoped it would be. I would like to leave.”
Disagreeing with someone; “I disagree with you when you say _____________.”
Saying yes or no without making excuses; “I am unable to come to lunch (or that church function).”
“I” statements for confronting: “I feel______when you_______ because__________.”

The A-S-E-R-T model

Ask for God’s Help: Pray for God to guide you through scripture and His Spirit.
State the Problem: Think over and state the facts of the problem. .
Express yourself: State your feelings. Do not judge.
Request change & feedback: Specify one behavior change. Then listen to the other person’s thoughts and opinions.
Talk-it- out: Paraphrase their ideas. Discuss the consequences, considerations & options.

Write out recent interactions you have had with people in which you could have been less demanding or passive. Then, using the ASERT model, rewrite the scenario using the paraphrasing and assertiveness skills. Resolve to start trying your newly acquired skills this week.

Assertiveness need not be a painful exercise of skills.

You can get something out of communicating more directly. Aristotle wrote, “many a friendship is lost for lack of speaking.” Speaking up will help you build closer relationships with others and gain more confidence in yourself! Just think, no more hinting, raging, manipulating or demanding your way! Instead, you can state your ideas, thoughts and feelings confidently, not leaving communication up to chance!

© copyright 2000 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

~ Lynette J. Hoy , NCC, LCPC, is a Marriage and Family Counselor and National Certified Counselor, author and speaker. She is the Executive Chair of the Chicagoland CBWC: Connecting Business Women to Christ organization. Lynette is co-founder of CounselCare Connection, P.C. providing online & office counseling for individuals, couples and families. Lynette regularly presents marriage, assertiveness, grief and divorce recovery, anger and stress management seminars.

©2004 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

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