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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Simple Ways to Boost Your Mood and Confidence

Positivity and confidence are important building blocks in life.  Often they are the prerequisite for other positive changes.  They keep us moving forward (instead of looking backwards) and connected to others.  Here are some simple ways to build mood and confidence boosters into your everyday life:

  • Evaluate your choices:  Take inventory about what is currently going on in your life:  in your relationships, workspace and environment.  Determine the aspects of your life that you can change positively, then focus on them.  Also acknowledge the things that you cannot change, and move on. Make sure to only invest energy in the things that are worth your while.  It may help to write them down.
  • Eliminate negativity:  If there are people and situations that leave you drained and grumpy on a regular basis, re-evaluate their place in your schedule and your life.  For example - a friendship should leave you energized, rather than drained, most of the time.
  • Stop blaming yourself:  When something doesn't go as expected, don't dwell on it.  Rather than beating yourself up about human mistakes, take a deep breath, regroup, and figure out your next steps.
  • Make time for exercise:  This helps burn off stress hormones and leaves you feeling relaxed and refreshed.  Exercise is also known to counteract mild to moderate depression and improves confidence.
  • Get social support:  Make time for dates with friends.  This helps reduce stress, improves health, and gives you something to look forward to.
  • Learn something new:  Novelty is good for the brain and the soul.  Pick up a new hobby, craft, skill, or language.  You will improve your confidence and may meet new people that share your passion.
  • Reward yourself:  Break down your goals into small, manageable benchmarks.  When you reach a benchmark, reward yourself with something healthy.  For example, after you finish cleaning a room, make time for a healthy snack or a phone call to a friend.
  • Nurture your mind:  Surround yourself with positive music, entertainment, and art.  Avoid movies or TV shows that leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and negative.
Make self-care a priority in your life.  If this is consistently hard for you, you may wish to consult with a licensed mental health professional for support.  

Are You Feeling Taken Advantage Of?

It's a nagging, uneasy feeling - when you feel like another person crossed a boundary and you feel used.  Sometimes these situations are hard to pinpoint, and you notice much later how you actually feel about it.  Other times it's immediately apparent.  A boss asks you to stay late for the third time in a week, a friend doesn't pay their share on a tab, a family member asks for repeated favors that start to take up much time and energy.  These are just a a few examples that may cause you to feel taken advantage of, and this in turn may cause anxiety, stress, anger, and resentment.

Often our needs and opinions will differ from another person's.  We can only guess what another person's intentions may be behind their requests or demands.  However, we can be in full control of how we respond to these requests.  Lots of people, especially women, struggle with assertiveness. 

Assertiveness

is the very essential skill of communicating clearly with others, while respecting your own rights and feelings as well as the rights and feelings of others.  

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What causes people to avoid being assertive?  Often it's for fear of displeasing others and of not being liked.  However, this leaves you vulnerable to being taken advantage of over and over again in the long run.  Acting assertively is not acting aggressively, passively, or passive-aggressively.  It means being direct, honest and open about your feelings, opinions, and needs.

.  It also means:

  • Stating reasonable requests directly and firmly.
  • Stating your goals and intentions in a direct and honest manner.
  • Stating your point of view without being hesitant or apologetic.  
  • Being able to say "no" without guilt to unreasonable requests.
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Asking for clarification when you're confused.
  • Respectfully volunteering your opinions even when they're different from others.
  • Using assertive body language - face a person squarely, straight upper body, good eye contact, being calm but firm
  • Taking your time ("Let me think about that").

Here is a basic script for setting a boundary with someone, aka guidelines to saying "no" to a request.

  1. Acknowledge the person's request by repeating it.  This shows respect for the other person's rights and needs.
  2. Explain your reason for declining.
  3. Say no.
  4. (Optional) If appropriate, suggest an alternative proposal where both your and the other person's needs will be met.

An example:  Let's say another person asks you to help them move, but you have already made plans or have an important deadline.  You may respond: "I understand you need some help moving (acknowledgment).  I'd like to help out but I promised my boyfriend we would go away for the weekend (explanation), so I'm not going to be available (saying no).  I hope you can find someone else."    Again, assertiveness means being direct, honest, and respecting your own rights and needs as well as theirs.

For a latest follow-up post on assertiveness on my blog, click here.

Assertiveness is a very important subject affecting our lives every day.  It takes awareness and lots of practice.  It is hard to be assertive for many of us.  If you find yourself being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive instead of being assertive, and this is pervasive in several areas in your life, talking to a trained licensed professional, such as a psychologist, can help.  I offer assertiveness training in my practice, as well as the opportunity to explore what may make it difficult for you personally to be assertive.