I love this quote from Winston Churchill. “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Powerful. I’ve taken the easy road of avoiding confrontation most of my life. That’s part of what set me down the path of an eating disorder for 20 years. Avoid pain. Avoid anxiety. Avoid confrontation.
It wasn’t easy to learn how to be assertive. Oh, I’ve been aggressive plenty in my life. I’ve been volcanic in my anger, swearing at people, yelling, hitting and throwing things, acting like a wild animal. Usually I was just hurting myself, pushing people away, and spewing my own inner self-loathing out from the pressure I put on myself to be completely self-reliant and not ask for what I needed – my personal experience of being passive. Attention is usually what I was missing when I was younger. Help is what I needed later in life to cope with the demands of marriage, parenthood, professional life, and the like.
Swinging from passivity to aggression like a pendulum is something most of my clients tend to do too. Fear of upsetting someone in their life is typically the reason – thinking perhaps that person would scold or berate them, or worse, abandon them. They stuff down their feelings of neglect, shame, guilt, and even abuse, using tools like an eating disorder, cutting, or anything else that distracts or numbs them out temporarily. Finally, there is no place left to stuff down the feelings and out they come.
The way past this is the middle ground between passive and aggressive – assertive. This looks like someone who is confident, self-assured, without being antagonistic. It’s asking for what you want, need, or think is right. It’s about being courageous – which doesn’t mean you have no fear, it means doing something even though you’re afraid – and taking care of your needs.
And what are you afraid of? Most tell me they don’t want to anger someone, like their mother or father, wife or husband, or even their child. Or worst case scenario create an enemy. But I agree with the esteemed Mr. Churchill. If you have an enemy, good. You’ve stood up for something you believe in. It’s a big step toward moving into recovery. Of course best case scenario is simply being assertive without creating enemies. After all, it’s not WWII.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.