The surprising pitfalls of being more assertive

A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to try to become more assertive, mainly in my interactions with service providers such as phone companies, garages and landlords. I felt like I was getting fobbed off a lot and accepting poor service. It was a very interesting goal to have, with surprising results. This post focuses on the surprising pitfalls:

Becoming too fussy

If you get into a mindset where you want to never be taken advantage of or get a bad deal, you might end up spending hours and hours a week complaining about products and services and trying to get the result you feel you deserve. Ultimately, you do have to let some things go unless you enjoy being involved in consumer complaints. I am contemplating developing some sort of system for this, such as a minimum price limit for complaints, or taking up every other issue I encounter (is it me or are goods and services getting shoddier overall?).

There’s also a risk of expecting too much from people. Everyone makes mistakes and the self-employed in particular are often under a lot of pressure due to the stresses of managing a business and the low and irregular pay often involved.

It’s difficult to predict people’s reactions, which may be negative

For some reason, I thought that if I was assertive in a ‘good’ way (relatively polite and direct), people would be ok with it. The fact is, you can’t totally predict people’s reactions and it’s also difficult to completely avoid sounding pompous/self-righteous/insulting when being assertive, so sometimes people will be rude to you, or they might be scared by conflict and back right away, even blocking you maybe. Alternatively, it may simply be ignored unless you employ further tactics and means. People are naturally quite defensive for the most part and even employing textbook tactics such as using ‘I’ not ‘you’ statements and including a compliment may still lead to some negativity towards you, some ‘fighting back’ – or flight.

I realised that although I’d become comfortable with debate and minor conflicts in friendships, not all my friends had. I even lost a friend through this, who decided to block me after I disagreed with him on an issue. As it was over Whatsapp I didn’t realise he was getting seriously upset by the conversation that I just saw as a quite trivial difference in views.

Most people are not comfortable with disagreements, in my experience, and it can be difficult to gauge how comfortable someone is. That said, some couples and family members are VERY comfortable with disagreements, as my neighbours demonstrate! It’s probably easier to gauge when you are face to face, and maybe even necessary to ask how someone feels about having debates or disagreements, if it’s a friend or partner. I once almost broke up with a partner because we’d been sniping at each other a lot and he was totally shocked as clearly he’d been fine with it, whereas to me it was a sign it wasn’t working.

Revenge

According to a study commissioned by Danny Wallace for is book ‘F*** you very much’, 14% of Brits have taken revenge against someone who was rude to them. If you’re going to get very assertive, which some people may feel is rude, watch out! I do worry about people spitting in my food sometimes, even when, to my mind, I’m being completely reasonable.

assertiveness
Being more assertive can feel great, but you do have to be prepared for some people responding defensively. Artwork copyright of this site.

Enjoying it too much

While being assertive can sometimes be scary and unpleasant, it can also be enjoyable. In fact, it can become addictive so watch out! I remember being a bit freaked out when I finally got control of the troublesome Spanish children I was teaching English to and actually started to quite enjoy the feeling of power.

Have you experienced these or any others? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Are they exaggerating their disability and, if so, why?

A system that is designed to eliminate fraud but has unwanted effects

These days the conditions for getting disability benefits and a blue badge are so extreme that many people who are genuinely in need and should be eligible are finding it difficult to qualify. There have also been many instances of the assessors deliberately lying or trying to catch out participants [2]. For me, hearing about this has definitely made me quite anxious about assessments, especially because I look fine. I can be totally exhausted and in extreme pain but I’m young and not naturally very expressive and you really can’t see it just by looking at me. You might see it if you know me and you’re looking with a sympathetic eye, but if you’re looking to fill quotas and save the government money, you could easily decide I look totally normal. Many people going through the process of applying for benefits are aware of the instances where assessors have disregarded what they have said instead commenting on how they looked and other superficial observations [1]. Unfortunately for many young people with severe degrees of conditions such as ME/CFS, MS, EDS, Fibromyalgia and so on, they feel a pressure to demonstrate their disability by walking in more agonised way, turning up at the assessment in pyjamas, using a stick etc. Something the majority of people don’t know is that pain is often delayed, so even if someone isn’t looking agonised now, they may feel it later. I’ve noticed that there has been some adjustment to the application forms to cater a bit more for fluctuating conditions and invisible illness but there’s still some way to go. It’s unfortunate that the very honest people who don’t exaggerate their condition at the assessment are possibly more likely to lose out than the (rare) people who are actually fine and made the whole thing up, and who are probably seasoned actors. Every time I have an assessment (and there seem to be many! Plenty of bureaucracy for the sick!) I do feel a pressure to look ill and in pain (which I often am), but at the same time I worry they’ll see me at another moment looking well and think I’m faking the whole thing! It’s a minefield!

visible-knee-pain-pixabay
How useful it would be if pain was visible! Unfortunately, it’s not. Photo from Pixabay.

 

A topic that’s hard to discuss

Another reason I feel like people think I’m faking it is because I rarely talk about how my condition affects me. It’s quite hard to fit into conversation sometimes, people rarely ask and it’s inevitably awkward, as you feel like you’re fishing for sympathy, and sometimes you get pity, or, alternatively, disbelief, which can be quite depressing/upsetting. But I know I need to discuss it more, because it’s just not something people know about, and I’m doing all these ‘odd’ things like sometimes using a stick/wheelchair and other times looking like I walk fine.

Mental ill-health

I think this is also an area that can really confuse people. I’ve found myself thinking ‘so-and-so is always laughing so he can’t be depressed’, and I’m sure that’s not the right way to look at it! I also knew a guy who stayed up all night before his assessment so he’d look ‘more obviously depressed’ by being dishevelled.

anxious looking girl
Those with mental health problems also feel pressure to conform to stereotypical images of anxiety and depression. Image by Pezibear from Pixabay.

What can we do about the situation?

If you have a hidden disability:

  • Try to talk about it more – it’s hard, but I know I need to do this
  • Share this post with people, or similar posts
  • Challenge any suspicions you may have about other people

If you don’t have one:

  • Challenge your suspicions and try not to be as judgmental as we are encouraged to be
  • If you find out someone you know has an invisible illness, say something like ‘I’m interested how the condition affects you, if you don’t mind sharing, so that way I can be more considerate about it’ – they’ll love you forever! And a lot more things will make sense. Do bear in mind they may only give you an edited version though, as actually detailing all the effects could take a long time for some people!
  • Feel free to ask questions such as ‘how does it feel when you walk too much?’ – but make sure your tone is not suspicious or judgmental! Most people with invisible illnesses feel very judged already.
  • Try not to expect people to look how they feel, and try not to assume it’s much worse to be physically unable to do something than to be able but only with significant negative effects.
  • Try to read some or all of the blog posts in your feed about invisible conditions so you learn more.

What are your thoughts and experiences on this topic? Comment below!

If you found this post interesting, you might also like other posts on disability issues:

Feeling like a disability fake even when you’re not

Government finally reveals that more than 4000 died within six weeks of being deemed fit for work 

Reflections on asking for help

Tips on managing chronic pain

Re-examining ‘fear of movement’ in chronic pain patients

Don’t focus on my impairment, ask me what I can bring to the role

We’ve got to stop pretending disability doesn’t exist

Chronic pain: an unrecognised taboo

References

[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/355/35504.htm#_idTextAnchor019

[2] https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/wow-questionnaire-responses-show-assessors-are-still-lying/ and https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/pip-investigation-welfare-expert-says-two-thirds-of-appeals-involve-lying-assessors/ and https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/355/35504.htm and

Some documentaries worth checking out!

Here’s my pick of food-for-thought iplayer documentaries (and nothing about Trump or Brexit I promise! You can find quite enough about those without my help!). They’re all quite easy watching in fact.

The music industry

This is interesting whether you’re a Kate Nash fan or not (I wasn’t at all familiar with her work). She tells it she finds life in the cut-throat music industry, which can be pretty different to how most people imagine.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p07ctstz/kate-nash-underestimate-the-girl

British woman who died fighting ISIS with a Kurdish militia

One of the most captivating documentaries I’ve ever seen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0006h6x/anna-the-woman-who-went-to-fight-isis

Japan

Even if you already know a fair bit about Japan, this offers some in-depth coverage and some shocking revelations.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0008kg8/japan-with-sue-perkins-series-1-episode-1

walter-mario-stein-kqfE9mvv7Xw-unsplash
Photo by Walter Mario Stein on Unsplash Japanese woman in forest with umbrella

 

Man giving birth

Get up to speed on men who have transitioned from female who de-transition in order to give birth… a fascinating watch, though you may wish to skip the birth scenes if you’re not keen on such things! It’s not graphic but even so, the moaning isn’t for everyone…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0008bxb/seahorse-the-dad-who-gave-birth

Documentary criticising middle class behaviours

Goes into the lengths some parents go to get their kids into the schools they want, property development in London and such (the title is a bit click-bait-ish). Something a bit different…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00071ly/how-the-middle-class-ruined-britain

Homophobia in football: getting rid of it

Homosexual rugby player Gareth Thomas goes on a mission to tackle homophobia in football… An interesting watch, whether you like football or not.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007s58/gareth-thomas-v-homophobia-the-legacy

sandrachile-ehDLfpmymoI-unsplash

A committed carnivore tries veganism

Always enjoyable to see someone trying something totally foreign to them, with an open mind, and engaging with very different people in the same way.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p07c6dwj/hayley-hayley-goes-6-vegan

America child brides

Unusual documentary on an issue that is rarely discussed… thought-provoking and at times shocking.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p072qyrb/americas-child-brides

Syrians in a remote part of Scotland

Really interesting look at how Syrian refugees are finding their new life on a Scottish island.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007sws/ad/our-lives-series-3-from-syria-to-scotland

The cam-girl industry

Pretty astounding revelations by owners of cam sites on a round-table discussion which includes a subscriber (ADULT only content)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p076jsr3/common-people

A great post about judging others with disabilities and dealing with such judgement: “How To Cope When You Are Feeling Judged” by Despite Pain

via How To Cope When You Are Feeling Judged

We don’t need to get physical. Post by “Be A Teaching Unicorn” on special needs support practices and how to change them to protect kids and help them thrive

Bear with me, because what I am about to say cause you to feel defensive or want to click away. Please keep reading. We overuse physical prompts and support in special education, and we are setting up our students to be hurt in their lives. Whatttttt? Hurt? Yes. Hurt. One in three children who receive […]

via We don’t need to get physical. — Be A Teaching Unicorn

Insightful post by Urspo on the usefulness of asking for help more, masculinity archetypes, and some tips: Spo-reflections on asking for help

I am not a fan of Robert Heinlein. There are many reasons for this but one of them is about the traits of his novels’ heroes. They are often ‘The self-sufficient man’. The fellows could do everything themselves thus never needing help from others. Mr. Heinlein extols his readers (mostly boys) to be likewise and he castigates thems who do not. […]

via Spo-reflections on asking for help. — Spo-Reflections