Thursday, June 3, 2010

Eureka! The difference between anger and aggression is...intent

Okay, so I'm a slow learner. Though I've read every self-help book ever written on...well...pretty much everything (meditation, organizing, parenting, marriage...if these books work, I should be fairly perfect by now), I've continued to struggle with asserting myself, without exerting myself. For me, asking for what I needed was akin to putting whomever I was asking into a headlock. And, being weak and a pacifist, I just couldn't do it. And so, I just continued to do for others...and pretend my own needs and wants were luxuries. Something I could afford someday, but not now.
I used to watch, slack-jawed and incredulous, when I would see a woman being assertive. But don't they worry that the other person won't like them? I would think. My own mother was the master of assertion. And, frankly, she kinda scared me. But she really didn't care what other people thought of her. Unless she respected you and then she cared...but not enough to behave differently. As a result, some people loved her. Others loathed her. But she was universally respected.
But...oh happy day. I finally get it. (Thanks in part to my wonderful therapist and in part to Self-Help Book #3,421 on my shelf: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy by Susan Piven.)

In fact, I recently tried it out in a very small way when someone who works for me began telling me about her sick dog. I listened patiently, though my mind was on the work I needed to get to in order to meet a deadline.
And then, it hit me. I didn't have to listen. It's a choice. I could excuse myself politely with a sympathetic murmur about her dog...and then get to my work. So rather than get angrier by the second, which I often do when I feel held hostage, I said I was sorry to hear about her dog (which I genuinely am).  And then I walked away.
Just. Like. That.
The sky didn't fall. She didn't scream "Get back here. I'm not done!" at me. Rather, she sighed, then got back to work herself. And when she left for the day, I reiterated that I hope her dog gets better. We parted friends.
Now maybe this all sounds ridiculous to you assertive types. But this is BIG for me.
I finally realize that taking care of my own needs and wants doesn't need to fall way down my to-do list. It can remain, right there at the top.
And I can still be nice. And thoughtful. And a good listener. But when I want to be. When I'm emotionally capable of it. When I'm physically capable of it.
Wow.
Look out world. Here I come. Not with a whimper, but a bang. A nice bang...

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