Getting our needs and wants met is a skill. It takes a finesse and a confidence that we think we should all know instinctively. Instead it is a learned skill that we start learning as a kid. As a kid we learn from our environment how to ask for wants and needs, and we learn specifically from our parents and family. If our family supportive and kind, then we learn to be confident in asking for our needs and wants. If our family is assertive, we may learn that we need to be overly assertive in asking, and if our family is abusive or domineering we often learn to be more passive or shy in asking for wants and needs.
When we approach people with aggression they feel put off and often resentful. When we are too un-assuming or shy people don’t take us seriously. I had a client walk in the office the other day with a grin, looking at the ground, shoulders slumped. She looked guilty as sin of something. She struggles to believe that she is worth having her needs or wants met, and as such does what a good deal of us do. She is passive, tender and quiet for a good deal of the time. She thinks “It doesn’t matter” and lets other people have their way over and over, and often is stepped on because she doesn’t set limits and boundaries with others. She works to see things from their point of view and only thinks of how they will be angry or mad at her if she stands up for herself or asks for her own needs to be met. Until she hits the tipping point. Then the raging bear comes out and instead of being tender, fierceness and aggression spew forth.
We all struggle with the balance of tender vs fierce. Tenderness is where we are kind and work to nurture others. Fierceness is when we set limits and boundaries. Tenderness without fierceness is victimization. We will be walked on even by the most well-intentioned of people. Fierceness without tenderness is aggression, either physical or verbal. Being fiercely-tender or tenderly-fierce is a skill. Being able to set limits on kindness is difficult, and we often worry that the person or organization we are setting limits on will be angry and punish us. If we don’t give our friend the $5 they asked for, they will be frustrated. If we ask for the last $5 back before giving them more money they will be mad. If we don’t work 60 hours a week for our job (when we only get paid for 40) they will fire us.
I work with so many people that don’t believe that they are worth having their needs or wants met. They either don’t bother to ask for their needs, wants, wishes or would-likes (secretly hoping that their partner / friend / job will just do what they need), or they hint and passive-aggressively try to get needs met. People either don’t understand these ways of communication, or intentionally ignore them. It is uncomfortable to be straight forward and say “I need this”. As a culture this is a taboo, especially for women. The struggle is that eventually when our needs, wants, wishes and would-likes aren’t communicated or met, we get angry and eventually resort to fierceness. And when we go at people like a raging bull, they tend to defend themselves and fight back instead of listening.
The client that came in to the office head down, shoulders slumped and shy grin on her face got a lesson in confidence that day. As you read this, do the following: Lift your shoulders up to your ears, pull them back along the shoulder-blades and drop them down. Lift your head to where your head is at neutral, not looking up or down. This is what she and I practiced for an hour. We also practiced asking for what she wanted in terms of “I need”, “I would like”, and “I want” in a confident voice, without giggling. We practiced “I would like you to respect our house. I need you to pick up your trash and not leave it for my husband and I. This is important if you are going to live here.” A perfectly reasonable request, right? It was a struggle to find the confidence to say it.
There is a skill called DEAR MAN (Marsha Linehan, DBT).
Describe the situation
Explain how it makes you feel
Assert what you want
I’m not going to explain the whole skill in this blog, but one of the key components is acting confident. Not cocky, not shy, confident. If I go in like an angry bear people will be defensive. If I go in shy and quiet, I probably won’t be taken seriously. Finding that place where I know that I am OK asking for what I’m asking for (even if I can’t get it, for whatever reason I’m still OK asking for it) gets me most of the way there.
Ultimately, if I don’t believe I’m worth it, no one else will. For whatever reason we have forgotten the skill of asking for what we want. As women we are seen as needy or demanding if we express our needs, and men are often seen as weak. I have personal found that while people may be surprised when I am comfortably forward with asking for what I want or need, they are rarely unreasonable.