Your boss always asks you to work on the weekend at the very last minute. You say “sure” every time even though you had planned to spend time with your family. You sit there frustrated just waiting for the weekend shift to come to an end.
Your housemate plays his music way too loud at night and you’re unable to sleep. Instead of having a chat to him about it, you just bad-mouth him to your friends.
You want to go away for a weekend, but you don’t think your partner would be interested in accompanying you so you don’t even bring up the idea.
You go to an expensive restaurant and order a delicious meal but when it’s brought over, you realise that it’s way over-cooked. When the waiter later asks “How is your dinner?” you reply, “Great,” while you stare down disheartened at the burnt chunk of meat.
If any of those situations hit a little too close to home, then you’re probably one of many who deal with the problem of being a “Doormat”.
What is a doormat you ask? It’s simple. Just as you would step over a doormat, people who are doormats let everyone step right over them. They take a submissive approach to life and relationships. Instead of standing up for what they believe in, they let everyone else stand over them.
Pushovers and perpetual People Pleasers. Doormat’s have a difficult time saying no to any requests – even those that are clearly deemed unreasonable. There are kind and thoughtful at their own expense.
Even when they really want or need something, they’re afraid to ask for it as they don’t want to inconvenience others. They also avoid conflict like a cat avoids water. Choosing to get along, at the cost of getting ahead.
So are doormats just people who are a little too nice? At first glance, sure. They seem like angels. Generous, flexible and amazingly polite. But look past the surface of kindness and smiles, you’ll often find an anxious, resentful core. Doormats tend to feel anxious as their self-confidence is dictated by the approval of others and in trying to get those around them to like them.
They waste a lot of energy trying to find a way to say no to others and even then, they often still just say yes, because they couldn’t bring themselves to say no. They hold themselves back from going after what they truly desire because their trapped by the act of doing what others say they should.
With the notion of “Go With The Flow” being the go to approach for life, Doormats have minimal control over their own lives and by consequence, feel helpless, motionless and trapped.
Behind the veil of kindness, they tend to be resentful and vindictive as their own unspoken desires aren’t being met which makes them feel like everyone else is constantly taking advantage of them. Ironically, they are the ones who allow it to happen.
In some unfortunate cases, the built up resentment and frustration from being walked over will result in an unexpected outburst of emotion and anger. Like a dormant volcano that suddenly erupts. For those around them, it seems like an unexpected emotional burst which in fact, had been brewing for countless moments to come.
Like a dormant volcano that suddenly erupts.
Well then, what is a “Doormat” actually meant to do? How do they take control over their lives again and stop being such a pushover?
Aggression Is Not The Solution
Some people think that in order to regain control, they have to swing the pendulum back in the opposite direction. From being a passive doormat to becoming an aggressive person. Instead of being passive and submitting, they feel the urge to dominate every circumstance. Instead of giving in, they fight to get their way in every situation, no matter what. While aggression is definitely appropriate in certain circumstances, in most cases, it is simply an ineffective communication and behavioral style.
Instead of promoting collaboration and providing a sense of self-worth, consistent passive-aggressive attitudes backfire by brewing resentment and the same aggressive behaviors in those people, you were first trying to control.
A key point of being assertive is to be persuasive not primitive. You assert yourself with the aim of getting to a favorable outcome. Getting tensed up and screaming like the Pokémon Pikachu firing a thunderbolt isn’t going to get you any closer to your goals.
Instead of being a passive doormat or an aggressive Pokémon, the best approach to handling this lies in the golden sweet spot between the two. This perfect sweet spot that is the premise of this guide is known as assertiveness.
ASSERTIVENESS: THE HOLY GRAIL BETWEEN AGRESSION AND PASSIVITY
You might be of the opinion that the term “assertiveness” refers to the advice from a 1980’s motivational video you saw with speakers who looked like the love child of King Kong and Charlie Sheen.
But in recent times, as we have been taught by society of the importance of being collaborative, kind and less confrontational, many people have got confused of the line between being a kind individual and becoming a doormat.
What Is Assertive?
Put simply, assertiveness is a communication & interpersonal skill in which you stand up for yourself and your opinions while respecting the rights of others.
The term comes from the late 1560’s meaning “declaratory, positive, full of assertion.” To really understand what it means to be assertive, you have to find your place on the spectrum of communication behaviors.
Without being malicious or aggressive, when you are assertive, you are simply straight forward and honest with others. Instead of dragging opinions out or expecting everyone else to read your mind, you simply speak your mind.
If something is bothering you, you speak up.
If you want or require something, you simply ask.
You voice out for your wants and needs, all while being calm, friendly and maintain a positive demeanour.
That’s it. Being assertive is simply the art of standing up for yourself, while respecting everyone else in the process. No harsh words, no aggression, no resentment, nothing.
With that, it also requires the understanding and acceptance that while you may make a statement or request, everyone else is still allowed to disagree or refuse. You don’t get upset, angry or resentful when that happens.
You maintain a calm demeanour, stay in control and work together to come to a mutually beneficial outcome. Assertiveness is not being just getting what you want, it’s about compromise and getting to what’s best for all parties involved. It’s about getting to a win – win scenario.
While an assertive person understands that you might not always get what you want, you will soon learn however that not only does it not hurt to ask, it actually helps you to ask as well.
That’s right, even if the answer is a resounding no.
In fact, people are terrible judges of how assertive they actually are. We tend to perceive others as being under-assertive and ourselves as being either over-assertive or just the right amount.
Research has shown that people tend to assume that they are being too pushy, even if the person they were speaking to thought otherwise. The researchers called this the ‘line crossing illusion’.
As it turns out, 38% of the participants in the study whose partners thought well of their behavior were sure that they’d somehow crossed the line. So for most of us, while we think that being assertive might be make us appear to be aggressive, the odds are that in fact, the opposite is happening.
THE BENEFITS OF BEING ASSERTIVE
You Will Have Better Relationships.
Academic researchers who study the characteristics of positive marriages and relationships have found clear links that assertiveness is a key attribute that both partners need to have, in order for a strong and healthy relationship. If one person feels like their needs aren’t getting met, they begin to feel resentment.
That happens, even though their partner might have never been informed. We all know that effective communication is crucial in a relationship and sometimes, assertiveness is the precursor needed to open the lines between partners in the first place.
Your Stress Levels Will Drop.
Research has also shown that individuals who completed specific assertiveness training reported less stress than those of us who don’t. If you are assertive, you say no to requests that could otherwise spread you too thin.
There is also the fact that when you stop being overly pre-occupied with what others think of your actions/preferences/opinions, you subsequently shed to anxiety attached to it. This in itself, allows you to feel a sense of control back over your life.
You Will Get More Confidence.
Becoming assertive can be likened to the act of a captain, retaking control of his ship.
Your actions and behaviours are now controlled by your own wants and needs, not by the opinions and decisions of others.
Being aware that you can now make changes to improve your own life circumstances in itself is a massive confidence booster.
You’ll Feel Less Resentful.
When you’ve been a doormat for everyone else’s happiness, this sense of frustration and resentment begins to brew deep inside you. As your assertiveness increases, you no longer have to feel that discomfort of saying yes to something, you really didn’t want to do.
When you do something, it is because you are truly okay with doing it and that is just part of the normal give and take of any healthy relationship.
HOW TO BE ASSERTIVE – CRAFTING AN ASSERTIVE MINDSET
In my own experiences, the first step to becoming assertive is to reshape your mindset. You need to breakdown any internal barriers and limiting beliefs that are holding you back from an assertive mindset. Here are a few guidelines to get you on the right track.
The first step on your path to stop being a doormat is to establish boundaries. Boundaries are rules and limitations that we set upon ourselves, to guide the behaviour of others that we deem to be acceptable. The issue with a doormat is that they generally have no boundaries and as such, people walk all over them.
If you don’t know what your boundaries are, now is the time to set them. Decide what kind of behaviour you deem to be acceptable and from this moment forward, make a commitment to yourself that you will not compromise on them.
Take Responsibility For Your Own Problems.
Doormat’s wait around and expect their problems to be solved for them. Assertive people take responsibility for their own problems by understanding that they are the only ones who are able to fix them. With this in mind, if you see something in your life that you aren’t happy with, start taking actions to fix them.
It doesn’t matter how, just start taking smell steps to fix these problems.
If you aren’t where you want to be in life, don’t look around for someone to blame. Take responsibility for your actions as you are the only one that can have an impact on the outcome. Be proactive about your life, not reactive to your circumstances.
Don’t Expect People To Read Your Mind.
If you aren’t happy about something, say it. Don’t behave as a doormat would by sitting there in silence, expecting others to know what you really want without uttering a single word. Not unless Professor-X decides to grant us all with the powers of telepathy, no one can read your mind. Never make the assumption that people know your every need. It just isn’t as obvious as you think it is.
Understand You’re Not In Charge For How Others Feel Or Behave.
People who are too passive, or too aggressive share one common characteristic. They both think they are in charge of how other people feel or behave.
Aggressive people simply takes control of other people’s actions through physical and emotional force. Passive people simply take control of other people’s actions by constantly submitting to their every will. Passive people think it is their sole responsibility to make everyone else happy, at their expense. Aggressive people think it is their sole responsibility to make themselves happy, at anyone’s expense.
Being assertive is to realize that it isn’t your job to control anyone’s behavior but your own. Your actions and behavior are the only things that you will have control over. It’s amazing when you realize this one simple fact of life. The stress and anxiety of trying to control other people’s emotions just washes away and you won’t have to spend hours worrying about whether or not other people will be happy with your actions.
Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that you should behave as a complete narcissist and not care about anyone else. It simply means that you don’t have to go above and beyond by being so considerate, that your own needs and opinions never get voiced out. Leave it to them to decide if they are upset or offended. Dealing with their emotions is their responsibility, not yours.
Suddenly behaving assertively will definitely trigger some reactions. Some of that, might not be so favorable but part of being assertive is to take responsibility for these outcomes. Regardless if they are good or bad, dealing with these consequences is much better than dealing with the consequences of living an anxious, disheartened life.
Assertiveness Takes Time.
You won’t magically become assertive by
reading this article. It takes time, practice and some level of dedication. Some days will be great, others not so much. Just be persistent and keep standing up for the things you believe it.
I guarantee you, it will pay off.
ASSERTIVENESS IN ACTION
Once you’ve got an assertive mindset, here’s how to actually be more assertive.
If the thought of standing up for what you believe in gives you terrible bursts of anxiety, that’s okay.
Just start with small, low-risk situations. For example, if you’re with your partner and are looking for a place for dinner, don’t just automatically try and do what they want.
Give your opinion of where you’d like to go too. If you buy a new shirt and realize when you got home that it has a tear on it, don’t just say “it doesn’t matter” and leave it be. Call up the store and request a replacement politely.
Once you feel comfortable in these small situations, just slowly start turning up the heat, one small step at a time.
On your path to becoming more assertive, the word “No” is your ally. The best way to practice assertiveness? Just start saying no more often. Is it going to cross your personal boundaries? Say no. Is your timetable already full? Just say “no thank you.” You don’t have to be harsh or rude while saying no. You can be firm and straight to the point while still being very considerate.
At first, saying no might make you feel a little anxious but eventually, it’ll come to feel great and empowering.
Will some people be disappointed when you say no? Possibly. Just remember that as long as you are considerate when expressing your needs, it’s not your responsibility to worry about their reaction. You should never have to feel guilty for treating yourself like their equal.
Be Simple And Direct.
When you’re being assertive, less is more. Keep your preferences and opinions, short and sharp. No need for elaborate explanations or long-winded stories. Just be polite and say what you feel.
Use “I” Statements.
When making a request or expressing disapproval, use “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You’re so inconsiderate. You have no idea how long my day has been today. Why would you ask me to do all these dishes?” say, “I’m extremely tired today. I understand you want these things done but I’m not going to be able to get to them until later this evening.”
Here are a few more examples of “I” statements:
- “You’re so possessive and needy.” “I feel frustrated when you make me feel guilty for spending time with my family.”
- “You always humiliate me in front of my work colleagues.” “I feel embarrassed when you get too drunk at my work events.”
- “You are always so demanding!” “I would appreciate it if you gave me at least 2 days notice before asking me to work overtime on a weekend.”
When crafting your “I” statements, be cautious that you don’t accuse or try to interpret the person’s behavior. That’ll just make them feel defensive and causes them to shut down. For example:
- “I feel like you’re being rude just to push my buttons.”
- “I think you’re just trying to start an argument with me.”
Don’t Apologise Or Feel Guilty For Expressing A Need/Want/Right.
Not unless your request is blatantly unreasonable, you have no reason to feel guilty or awkward for communicating your needs. So stop apologizing when you request something. Just ask for it politely and give it a moment to see how the other person responds to you.
Doormat’s feel guilty for making a request. Even when they are paying for it, they will still feel guilty asking for their money’s worth! If someone you hired hasn’t completed the task that you paid him to do, it is your due right to ask for it to be fixed. Forget about being polite or trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings, it’s business. When you pay for something, you want it done right.
Maintain Confident Body Language And Tone Of Voice.
When you assert your opinions, look confident. Stand up tall, smile or stay neutral and look them in the eye.
There’s no need to raise your voice but speak clear and just loud enough so that they can hear your point.
Submissive people have a tendency to whisper and mumble when voicing their opinions which only serves to make you appear indecisive. No one is going to listen to your opinions when it appears like you aren’t even sure of what you want.
You Don’t Have To Justify/Explain Your Opinion/Choices.
When you state an opinion that others disagree with, one way in which they will try to dominate and regain control of the conversation is to demand a justification for your opinion.
If you can’t provide a strong enough reason, based on their opinion, you’re supposed to agree with whatever it is that they want.
Doormats are guilty of this problem. With their constant crave for approval, they feel an obligation to justify and explain everything. Even if no one is asking for it, they ensure that they justify every single decision they make.
Wanting to ensure that everyone is okay with their decision, they are simply requesting for permission to live their own lives. It’s their lives, run on everyone else’s watch. Don’t be like that.
Just like an actor, prior to the big screen. Practice every scenario in which you plan on asserting yourself. Of course, it might seem a bit silly but get in front of a mirror and practice what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. Take note of your body language and voice while you say it.
Stand up tall, look into the eyes of your reflection, speak loud and clear and say what you have to. Assertiveness is a skill like any other and every expert has to practice their craft. Trust me, it helps.
Of course, sometimes when you make a request, it’ll be shot down immediately. It happens but don’t give up just yet saying “Oh well, I did my best.” Sometimes, in order to be treated as an equal, you have to be persistent.
Take a deep breath, stay calm and collected and try again.
For example, if a service staff refuses to help you out, ask politely if the manager is available for a quick chat. If your extension for an assignment is rejected, ask again politely if there is an option to make up for the lost marks.
On that note, be cautious of some bad advice floating around about assertiveness that suggests you constantly ask for the same thing repeatedly until you get a positive response. Again and again and again until they give up and say yes.
That’s not just being persistent, that’s being a pest.
Pick Your Battles
- How much does this matter to you?
- Will you feel frustrated if you don’t assert yourself?
- Are you looking for a positive outcome? Could being assertive just make things worse?
- What are the most likely consequences and risks from you being assertive?
- Do you actually want a result from this or are you simply being assertive to express yourself and vent out frustrations?
HANDLING PEOPLE WHO ARE USED TO YOU AS A DOORMAT
If for most of your life you’ve been a doormat, the people closest to you will most likely show some resistance as you begin to assert yourself.
They are accustomed to you as a doormat and are happy with the dynamic of you being the passive party in the relationship. Don’t get angry or frustrated if someone tries to ruin your new assertive approach to life. That’s a perfectly normal response.
Just remind yourself that while it might seem like a problem in the short term, the long-term benefits of asserting yourself will be better for you and for them in the long run.
Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and do it. Maybe it’s the dishes, a weekend shift or a movie that you really don’t like.
In saying that, the ability to voice out your opinions and furthermore, respect the importance of your own wants and needs will serve to make you a more confident person. The outcome of asserting yourself could lead to getting what you want, a compromise or even a rejection.
But the fact is, regardless of the outcome, it will make you feel more in control of your life as you take responsibility for your own needs.
Start small, learn how to stand up for what you believe in and start making assertiveness a part of who you are.
We all have people in our lives that we view as being assertive. With just a little practice, dedication and training, you can also be that person who others look up to when they need something taken care of.
When you start respecting your own needs and wants, other people in your life will start respecting them too.