Assert yourself

<em>Time Out</em> gets tough and takes a professional approach to being a doormat

It’s fair to say that I’ve often battled with being assertive. Basically, it’s just not in my nature. Case in point: I once had a roommate who became impossible to live with and, after finally working up the nerve to tell her so, she said, ‘Well, you have the problem, so you should move out.’ Never mind that I found the apartment, that the lease was in my name and that I had furnished the entire place. Moving out, I figured, was certainly easier than telling her simply, ‘No’. Though I hate to admit it, I’m the type of girl to get dragged out to loud bars against her will, to give up on hunting down money that’s owed to her – be it by friends or former employers – and to bend over backwards to meet the needs of everyone, if at all possible. My name is Daisy Carrington and I’m a people pleaser.

It had never occurred to me that there were people trained to help people just like me, but there are. Jebel Ali-based assertiveness trainer and coach Jane Storey helps everyone on the assertiveness spectrum, I recently discovered, from push-overs to bullies. One-on-one coaching, she says, works well for specific problems, and usually three meetings is ample time to solve an issue. But for general assertiveness training, Storey recommends attending one of her workshops.

I opt to meet her, one-on-one. As she listens to me describe a lifetime of giving in, she starts to identify certain patterns. Some of what she uncovers is a complete surprise to me. When I describe the times in my life that I’ve felt the ‘N’ word get stuck in my throat, she points out that the trigger always seems to be me feeling like a bad something: friend, daughter, employee.

‘Can you imagine what would happen if you said “no” in those situations?’ she asks. Often the emotion I come up with is fear, either of being hassled, or of being disliked. ‘That’s a common reason people give for being afraid to assert themselves,’ she assures me, adding, ‘but there’s nothing you can do to prevent people from not liking you. If you walk into a room, nine people may love you, and one won’t, and it may have nothing to do with you. It may just be the way you look.’

There is something very therapeutic about talking to Storey, except our session is more focused than a jaunt on the coach, and has more immediacy. While we start by talking about my mother (isn’t that how all therapy begins?), halfway through our talk, Storey is ready to get proactive: ‘OK’, she says, slapping her thigh. ‘What can we do to help you today?’ I tell her about one particular problem that has been weighing on me for weeks involving caring for one of my relatives. It is a problem that seemed unsolvable, yet one I had invested several hours (waking and dreaming) trying to fix. While others had told me that it wasn’t a problem that was my job to solve, I couldn’t believe it. In my mind, I was the only one capable of solving it. I just didn’t know how.

I expect Storey to regurgitate what others have told me, but she doesn’t. Instead, she astutely points out that I have a habit of promising more than I can deliver, a pattern that upsets people, and pushes them to cast me in the ‘bad’ role that I fear so much. She says that if instead I set realistic expectations about what I’m able to offer, even if it’s not as much as what I’d like to give, I would actually satisfy the needs of those around me more. The concept – so ridiculously simple – comes at me like a lifebuoy in choppy waters.

To help me really absorb this, Storey engages me in some role play. I get into the habit of saying things firmly, without apology: ‘No, it’s my house, you have to move out’, ‘No, you owe me money, and I’m done waiting for it’, ‘No, I have too heavy a workload to take on that project right now’. And each time that my tongue hits the back of my teeth, making that glorious ‘nnn’ sound, I feel not only stronger, but lighter. Who knew that ‘no’ could have such a positive impact?

Workshops available at the Synergy Centre, Al Wasl Road, opposite Choithrams. One day workshops, 9am- 4pm, Dhs550. One-on-one sessions Dhs350. Call 050 877 1983

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