Helping Your Life Work
February 1, 2008
Volume 4, Issue 2

Being There

There are currently 446 books devoted to the subject of assertiveness on the Amazon.ca website. At the top of the list is “The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships,” written by Canadian psychologist Dr. Randy J. Paterson. Generally viewed as the consummate guide to assertiveness, it is a comprehensive, well organized, and highly readable text. It provides the reader with theories, insights and exercises that challenge and inspire one to live a more assertive life.

Dr. Paterson describes assertiveness as a quality of “being there,” of being honest and in the moment, (rather than hiding behind our various masks) so that others will feel invited to “be there” as well. He contends that assertiveness is not about getting our way, but about taking control of our behaviour and recognizing that others are in control of theirs.

This is in sharp contrast to how the locus of control figures in the other styles. For example, the person who has adopted a Passive style has basically given control of his/her life to others. This is the person who wants to disappear into the background, can’t say no, and sets no boundaries, in an effort to avoid conflict or rejection by others.

On the other hand, those who adopt the Aggressive stance seek to control others, often in an effort to avoid feeling powerless and small next to others. They tend to see life as a competition with winners and losers. They reason that if they can intimidate first, they can avoid being intimidated by others.

Then there are those who combine elements of both. They have the desire to control, but fear the consequences of being direct, so combine their anger and fear in a Passive-Aggressive style. They consistently arrive late to appointments and blame it on traffic, or ‘accidentally’ spill coffee on someone else’s project so that theirs will look better, or conveniently forget to bring their chequebook when they owe someone money. In this way, they can indirectly express their anger without having to take responsibility for it.

The Alternator alternates between the Passive and Aggressive style. The late Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Birnbaum described this style best when he talked about the ‘boiler theory’ in his “Cry Anger” book. He suggested that after exerting enough pressure over time to push down feelings of anger and resentment, the Passive person eventually erupts with anger. Shocked by their outburst, they retreat to the passive style, confirming that they cannot trust themselves to express their anger in a healthy way.

Over the last months, I have worked through this workbook with a group who has unanimously agreed that the Paterson book proved an excellent resource and a great source of motivation for them to become more assertive. If you can identify with any of the nonassertive styles above, I invite you to attend the next group that I will be offering in the spring. Please give me a call or send me an email for more information.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352

“Helping Your Life Work”

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