Define “Assertive”

All my life, I’ve been told by different people that I don’t demand respect when I should.  Some of those same people have also told me to shut up if I push back when they ignore boundaries, so it’s complicated.

I’m addressing this because it’s a common social situation.  Other people — of all ages, including young children — have been treated this way, and in extreme cases it isolates a person from the rest of the community.  From an early age, I was the target of contradictory pressure.  I was probably born shy, and the forceful, unsolicited Alice In Wonderland confusion made it worse.

Hypocrites who tell us to speak up/shut up aren’t necessarily complicated people, even if they have complicated problems and they’re pushing complicated buttons.  Many are preoccupied with leading others, and some are just nonthinkers.  Actually, their intellect may fall on any point of the spectrum.

All of those people who jump back and forth with advice like cartoon characters in hot frying pans have their own issues.  They have plenty to say to others, but invest less energy in introspection. Introspection is difficult, embarrassing and brings guilt to the surface.  It demands change.  Introspection is for courageous people. Others find it more gratifying to take charge of lives that aren’t their own.

I’m more likely to speak my mind now, and think of the right things to say when someone’s invading my space.  If the person is halfway reasonable (and reasonable people do ignore boundaries when they’re not thinking), I just politely say, “I can make that choice for myself,” or something to that effect.

Full blast harassment is a different matter.  For about two years, I did volunteer work in a place where two salaried co-workers were determined to get me married off to an abusive friend of theirs whom I refused to date.

“You two could have such cute children,” one of them said.

Fortunately, this harassment didn’t last the entire two years.  It went on for about one year, though, and I was assured the man who kept asking me out was “in love” with me.

Granted, there was substance abuse and mental illness involved in that weirdness.  Still, my first step in dealing with it was to reason with everyone.  I must have been a naive lass.

Then I got nasty.  No luck with that, either.

Then I spoke to a supervisor.  Clueless bastard.

Relief finally came when the unwanted suitor moved away, and my co-workers were both laid off before they could find another Mr. Right.

I had my own reasons for staying with that nonsalaried job, and did not find it helpful when women who called themselves feminists told me I was inviting abuse.  I am not obligated to justify myself to anyone, and you can imagine how angry some acquaintances were after I told them that.  However, their point was well taken when they said the work environment was potentially violent.

You may have already figured out where this is going, and rest assured I’m almost ready to flush.

I still hear the unsolicited speak up/shut up stuff, but the difference now is I’m at peace with the way I’m reacting.  Jerks are everywhere, and when they confront me I can usually feel confident I’m handling the situation right.

Sometimes we have to push back immediately without behaving presumptuously ourselves.  Sometimes we have to decide when to speak to a third party.  Other times we have to write a calm, carefully thought-out letter, and then delete the filthy language before mailing it.

Even if we’ve spent a lifetime achieving balance in dealing with difficult people, we’ll still make mistakes.  If inexperienced people don’t like it, well, fuck ’em.

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