It all started with a queasiness in the stomach.
We had just sat down for dinner and were deciding what to order when a hand reached over and touched my leg. It was an all-too familiar hand, an all-too familiar touch, yet somehow such an innocent gesture of warmth and kindness felt criminal and made me shiver. The hand remained upon my leg and their eyes looked up at me expecting a reaction but I just couldn’t bring myself to look up or respond. Why? Because, in that moment, I felt nothing.
If only the same could have been said for my thoughts. Instead, a barrage came flooding through my mind bringing with it a tsunami of nausea. My stomach was doing barrel rolls under the table and I was drowning fast. Drowning in guilt, in shame, embarrassment and regret.
How could I have let it get this far? How could I have been so selfish? They were right all along. He’s going to hate me and never want to speak to me again. I’m messed up. I’m damaged. No, I’m a wreck.
We are always so quick to be there for others. To help, to listen, to lend a hand to those who need us. To be compassionate and empathetic with anyone and everyone we meet. It’s how we’re brought up. It’s what we learn, be it through example or experience, is the right thing to do. It’s what separates us from the animals and what tucks us in at night. Congratulations People Pleaser #9145, you’ve signed up to the great and noble cause of Being a Good Human Being, and now you’re going to go through hell because of it!
It will come as no surprise that those who care and feel deeply for other human beings are always the ones who are first in line to help out those in need. Regardless of how they are feeling, or what is going on in their own lives, they will drop everything to help someone else, to be there for someone in need, and it is often to the detriment of themselves. During their quest to help others they’ve forgotten to even think about themselves – what they want, what they need, how they feel – and slowly but surely, their health and their happiness drifts further and further out to sea, out of sight and out of mind. Their goals, their dreams, their values and their identity has been washed away, knocked off course, and if they’re not careful they’ll be drowning in shit creek in no time at all with a broken paddle heading towards breakdown bay.
It might happen slowly, or it might creep up on you suddenly, but we all must meet this moment of truth. The moment when we realise that things are out of alignment, that we’re not in the driver’s seat of our life anymore, that the life we are leading is not in tune with what we want and what we need.
We spot the eject button out of the corner of our eye but we flinch and recoil out of fear that we might hurt the very people we pledged to help. We worry that by summoning up the courage to be honest it will make us look weak and a liar. That by being a friend to ourselves we’ll become an enemy to everyone else. But guess what?
You have the right to say “no”.
You have the right to change your mind.
You have the right to look after and be true to yourself.
It’s called being assertive and it’s hot A.F!
In 1975, Manuel J. Smith first proposed a tenpoint plan for assertiveness known as his “Bill of Rights” where he stated all the rights that we as thinking and feeling, irrational and complex, humans have. Think of it as a checklist, a set of criteria, to measure how true we are being to ourselves in any given moment; a road-map to keep us on course, or a lifeboat to keep us dry and stay afloat when we are lost and swept away by the current.