POST WRITTEN BY: ALY MCCARTHY
For better or worse, the virtue of Assertiveness has really resonated with my current stage in life.
Most people don’t realize that I’m an extremely stubborn person. To my parent’s dismay, it’s been my natural temperament since I came out of the womb. In fact, I’ve always prided myself on coming from the junction of two stubborn families. It’s just who I am – or at least I always considered it to be that way.
This trait of mine is usually hidden. It is very easily balanced with a desire to be liked and appreciated, so I’ve learned to pick my battles. I hide the hard side of my personality behind an inviting smile and a quiet demeanor. In my adult life, there are even times when I conveniently forget this rigid part of myself. There are times when I flatter myself by remembering traits of kindness, compassion and generosity. People tell me that I have a loving temperament and on a good day I may even consider my own humility (although, of course, I would never admit it).
The problem is that this stubborn part of my personality still exists, buried deep inside and ready to resurface when the time is right. Unfortunately, the time is right now.
This past year has brought on a lot of change. My husband and I are still fairly new to the area, moving here only a year and a half ago. We’ve had dramatic job transitions and financial struggles. We’ve had to create a new network and lifestyle. We’ve faced personal shifts that challenged what we believe about ourselves and our identity. There have been family illnesses and hardships. We’ve been blessed with expecting our first child. And as I learned to accept all of these changes, we were then hit the news that we must move to a new state again, while I’m pregnant, for my husband’s job.
Many of these changes I am grateful for, but they are change nonetheless. As much as I want to embrace it all, when occurring one next to the other it can be overwhelming. Finally, I have reached the point when it feels like too much and I’m looking to God to make it easier.
I’ve whimpered, I’ve complained, I’ve sought pity from myself and others. God hasn’t made it easier and now I’m angry.
As a stubborn child, this is when I’d start throwing a tantrum. I didn’t throw small tantrums. Once I decided I was upset, I’d remain in that state for the long haul. Sure, this behavior wasn’t convenient for me, but it also punished everyone else who made me endure what seemed so unfair. First, there was crying and screaming – real screaming – I wanted the world to hear. Then I’d be put in my room for a time out. I would use all my strength to open the door, so someone had to be there holding it shut. I wouldn’t just try for a minute, I’d be at it for an hour. When that proved unsuccessful, I’d throw all my stuffed animals at the door, commanding that I be let out. All this until I finally lost every drop of energy within me. Still not willing to conform, I would nap. By the time I woke up it didn’t seem worth it to continue fighting, so I’d call it a truce. Maybe I didn’t get my way, but I did everything I could and made sure that everyone else was miserable in the meantime.
Of course, God knows that this stubborn nature is still a part of me. Other people, even myself, may be fooled by my attempts to seem better on the surface, but not God. Now he asks me to conform, to trust and to love. My natural response – I’m not walking away but I won’t go down without a fight.
It’s selfish. What am I to say to God?
“You’ll see! I’ll show you that my way is better!” – because I obviously know more.
“You’ll regret this when it hurts our relationship!” – because emotional manipulation always works with God.
“Fine, I’ll do what you want because there’s no other option – but don’t expect me to be happy, don’t expect me to work well, don’t expect me to be loving, and don’t expect this to be pretty.” – because kicking and screaming usually adds to my quality of life.
Still I continue with this sense of frustration. I look at my creator who knows me, who understands what I’m capable of, who wants me to be the best of who I am, and plead, “Why don’t you just accept me?”
Accept me and my stubborn nature, accept my tantrum, accept my whimpering and groveling, make it easy for me. Since I'm unwilling to change, I’m left with a sense of discontentment, a feeling of impatience towards others and general aggression.
So that brings me back to the virtue of Assertiveness.
Our Living With Character video defines Assertiveness as “asking others for the things you need in a way that honors your relationship with them.”
There are a few vices associated with this virtue: Passivity, Aggression, and Passive Aggression. I can’t help but think that I’ve hit all three, and I’ve effectively hid it from myself until this very moment.
Somehow I’ve been passive about expressing my own needs and through this have showed a lack of self-respect. However, when my needs weren’t met, I went to God with Passive Aggression and this manifested in general Aggression in my day-to-day experiences.
The point is that life is hard. What I’m experiencing now isn’t anything extra-ordinary, it’s just life and it comes with change. As much as I would have preferred for things to get easier, I received a better fate – the ability to recognize a way in which I’m lacking and the opportunity to improve. This may not be my proudest moment, but it is a time when I can learn to respond to life’s inconsistencies in a way that will honor my relationships with myself and others in the future. Without this moment, without this painful self-awareness, I may not have had the ability to become stronger tomorrow.
With a focus on Assertiveness this month, here are some of the questions I’ll be asking myself each day:
- Did I ask for help when I needed it?
- Was I honest with myself and others about the way that I’m feeling?
- Did I treat myself with self-respect and positive self-talk, or was I negative and critical about my performance?
- Did I communicate in a way that honored the people around me?
- Were there times when I could have been more forgiving about small inconveniences?