Stop Being Taken Advantage Of: Know Your Rights

By popular demand, here's a little follow up to my previous post, Are You Feeling Taken Advantage Of?, which describes basic concepts and skills of assertiveness.

As described before, assertiveness means standing up for your rights and not being taken advantage of. 

Many people, especially women, have difficulty with assertiveness for fear of seeming aggressive or "bitchy", thereby worrying about displeasing others and not being liked.  But how is being assertive different from being aggressive?

Aggressive behavior is typically punishing, hostile, blaming, and demanding. It can involve threats, name-calling, and even actual physical contact. It can also involve sarcasm, catty comments, gossip and "slips of the tongue."  

Being aggressive means standing up for yourself in ways that violate the rights of others. On the other hand, being assertive means communicating clearly, respecting your own rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others.

The first step to developing assertiveness is knowing your rights.  This will make it easier to stand up for them.  Often we have difficulty standing up for ourselves because we don't know if we have the right to.  

Here is a list of basic rights to consider when standing up for yourself:

  • The right to be treated with respect.
  • The right to say no without feeling guilty.
  • The right to experience your feelings.
  • The right to take time to slow down and think.
  • The right to change your mind.
  • The right to ask for what you want/need.
  • The right to ask for information.
  • The right to make mistakes.
  • The right to say, “I don’t know.”
  • The right to be listened to and taken seriously.
  • The right to set your own priorities.

If we know and can remind ourselves of these rights, we can then formulate responses to difficult and stressful situations that require assertiveness.  For more tips on assertiveness, feel free to check out again my previous post.

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Self-Care for the Holidays

Ah, it's that time of year again.  You may have started your holiday planning and shopping, RSVPing to various events, and/or getting ready to host.  For most of us, the holidays are a mix of excitement, gift giving and receiving, and spending time with the ones we love.

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On the flip side, it may also involve running harried, stretching ourselves too thin, dealing with competing demands, and family drama.  Relationships may become (more) strained.  Whereas some level of increased stress is to be expected, the holidays can also bring out additional difficult feelings, such as grief and loneliness.

The need for self-care and boundaries is higher than ever at this time of year, although ironically we likely have less time to do so.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Be kind and gentle with yourself.  When multiple demands compete for our energy and attention, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in the present and enjoy the moment.  
  • Identify now how you want to take care of yourself.  For some, this means scheduling time with a dear friend.  For others, it could be unwinding with hot tea or cocoa at night and sticking to an exercise routine.
  • Notice when you become reactive.  When you notice having a shorter fuse, for example, take a long and gentle moment to reflect on what is really causing it.  What may initially feel like annoyance with slow moving lines or traffic, might really be about pressure to keep up, or feeling taken advantage of, or having familiar buttons pushed by a family member.
  • Holiday stress may get acted out in relationships.  This may create a wish to withdraw from others or engage in various escape fantasies.  Be careful not to entirely give in - spending meaningful quality time with others usually leaves us feeling better. 
  • Be aware how you respond to interpersonal conflict.  Do you pursue or withdraw?  These patterns may get exacerbated with holiday stress.  Just being aware can help you modify your responses to others.
  • Be a clear communicator.  Let others know what you're willing and able to contribute, and also communicate what you are not able to do.  Read this post about assertiveness skills.
  • If you are spending the holidays alone, plan quality time for yourself as well as some time to be around others.  Joining a community that has meaning to you, religious or secular, is good for mental health.  Volunteering and giving back during the holidays can be immensely rewarding.  Shifting focus from inward to outward can help put difficult feelings in perspective.  Plan your participation early as volunteer opportunities on holidays fill up quickly.
  • Take note of what you are grateful for.  It helps put things in perspective.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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How Do I Learn to Love Myself?

Our culture uses the terms “self-esteem” and “self-worth” liberally.  Thousands of books are published on it every year and hundreds of opinions written on it every day.  Many of us are constantly and painfully aware of our real or imagined shortcomings and their interference with self-acceptance and self-love.   Consequently, many of us are on a constant quest of self-improvement.

Self-worth is (1) the belief in oneself and (2) self-respect.  It is the conviction that you are competent to cope with life’s challenges and are worthy of happiness. It includes the ability to trust yourself to solve problems rather than just worry about them, take reasonable risks, and nurture yourself.  It also means being able to forgive yourself and giving yourself permission to make mistakes. 

Context has a huge influence on how we define our self-worth.  If you are a student at a competitive university and surrounded by highly intelligent people, academic success may be the main contributor to your sense of self-worth.  The same goes for those of us who define their self-worth by professional success.  And in today’s world where success is often linked to (some subjective definition of) beauty, self-worth is often defined by physical appearance.  If we are going through major life transitions, such as personal or professional changes, we can feel even more vulnerable in areas of self-love and self-worth.

What makes self-love and self-worth so tricky is that we lose sight of the multitude of factors in life that can give us meaning and define our self-worth.  We tend to assume all or nothing attitudes and self-definitions, and if you’re a perfectionist, you are twice vulnerable.  Achievement and looks aside, we play many other roles in life.  We are friends, sons/daughters, brothers/sisters, caregivers, romantic partners, supporters, activists, givers and receivers, spenders of leisure time, writers, speakers, advice givers, team members, etc.  And we make important choices every day that affect these roles.  There are many ways in which we contribute to our environment every day – ways we forget all too easily.

 Here are some ideas to start improving the way you feel about yourself:
  • Take inventory of the many ways you contribute to the world around you.
  • Learn positive self-talk – look for more on this in a future installment of this blog
  • Know your rights – this has to do with assertiveness.
    • The right to take time to slow down and think.
    • The right to change your mind.
    • The right to ask for what you want/need.
    • The right to ask for information.
    • The right to make mistakes.
    • The right to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Practice self-care and balance.  Treat yourself to something meaningful.  Be gentle with your body and mind.  You deserve it.
  • Get in touch with your strengths.  Make a list of personal strengths, both internal and external.
  • Accept compliments. Challenge yourself to simply say “thank you” after you receive a compliment.

If you are struggling with self-worth and self-acceptance, talking to a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can help. I am a Houston psychologist and I work with both couples and individuals.  Call me for a free consultation at 713-364-8328 or visit DrGortner.com for more information on my services.