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The Assertiveness Thread!!

(42 Posts)
grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 08:40:57

OK, so I am not very good at assertiveness. I tend to end up in the camp of passive-aggressive or hostile. I am trying to improve my skills - I realise this is to do with practice.

One problem I have is that when something happens that really needs a response, I freeze. My mind goes blank and I panic. My PIL are extremely bullying and passive-aggressive and they use the pause to their advantage. So I am trying to get in training for Christmas by thinking through some likely scenarios an working out my response.

I am really hoping others want to join in with their own examples, for entirely selfish reasons! I think I can probably learn a lot from thinking through other situations as well. Please indulge me!! grin

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 08:41:41

So, for example, my DH recently got an honour at work. He rang his mother to tell her, and in passing he said 'I couldn't have done it without Grund - she did loads of work on it'. MIL then instantly said 'Oh I bet you couldn't have done it without the cat either - I bought Grund a sign that says 'behind every great man is a great cat'. (She did. It is in the charity shop). For context, this is one in a long line of slightly patronising comments that diminish my contribution to the household and DH's life!

What's the best response if this happens to my face??

a. 'Ouch! I find that a bit hurtful'
b. 'Yes, the cat spent hours slaving over the proofreading and editing of the documents' (too PA?)
c. Ignore it

category12 Fri 11-Dec-15 08:52:12

There's a classic Mn line, something like "Do you know how rude that sounds?" that seems appropriate here.

thewookieswife Fri 11-Dec-15 08:56:50

Quick as a flash always say " What a patronising comment - just what I'd expect from you !! "

What would the effect on your relationship with DH be if you stood up to his vow of a mother ? Some DH can have split loyalties ? ( mine sides with the cow, not me, so j just don't interact with PIL anymore !!)

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 08:58:21

Ahhhh, 'did you mean to be so rude'? See (and this may be my inexperience) - I wonder if that isn't a bit aggressive? I read in a book that you're supposed to be emotionally open about how the behaviour is impacting on you, but to do it in a way that protects the other person's ego and doesn't ramp up the conflict. I suppose I could rephrase as 'Gosh, that's a bit hurtful - I'm sure you didn't mean to be rude, but that smarts!' Or is that too PA?

Like I said, I'm not that great at this.

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 09:01:57

wookieswife - DH recognises that there is a big problem with their attitude. BIL does as well. Both are immensely and constantly apologetic.

Both see assertiveness from everyone as the way forward. BIL has developed a very assertive and effective manner with them, DH less so, but he is trying (this has to do with DH being on the receiving end of more explosive behaviour from FIL when he was younger).

I realise the advice on Mumsnet is usually 'let your DH deal with this', but at a micro-level of moments within conversations, it's a problem we all need to pitch in with.

Friendlystories Fri 11-Dec-15 09:08:17

I don't think your rephrasing is PA at all, would love to hear MIL's response to it! I think the important thing is to call the person out on their bitchy comments so they can't be brushed under the carpet, keep doing that and it gets more difficult for them to carry on being catty. If you can manage a rueful smile alongside that kind of response you're into a winner I reckon smile

Friendlystories Fri 11-Dec-15 09:10:00

onto a winner, bloody autocorrect angry

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 09:16:00

Thanks Fern. grin

If only it didn't take me ten minutes to think of it, I'd be OK!!

Friendlystories Fri 11-Dec-15 09:24:28

I think it gets easier the more you do it and it doesn't have to be instant. Use the example you've given up thread as a sort of formula and just tweak it to fit her latest nasty comment. As long as there's enough of a pause in conversation for you to register she's being a bitch again you should be able to think of a comeback in time. Practise makes perfect and it doesn't sound like you'll be short of opportunities if PIL are that bad wink

GinThief Fri 11-Dec-15 09:28:06

I need to be more assertive so watching with interest. I tend to have a great reply pop into my head 15 minutes too late.

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 09:33:24

OK, another one.

What do you do when someone talks right over you - repeatedly?

DH I will be having a normal conversation, say around the dinner table. We're not the types that will drone on for hours! I'm talking about a normal to-and-fro of seconds or minutes. MIL will cut in, and will repeat DH's name in a crescendo to talk over us, so it will go 'Risse, Risse, RISSE, RISSE, RISSE' until all conversation has to cease. Then she will make a terrible joke, often of the kind that would amuse a small child. This will happen once ever 15-20 minutes or so. It makes it very difficult to have an adult conversation.

How to handle?

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 09:34:56

GinThief - oh thank Christ that I'm not the only one!! grin

Please, please feel free to post your own situations and dilemmas and also, if you are one of those awesome people who is good at this, your responses to situations that have arisen. I don't want this to be all about me - I want to learn from other people who are better at this. (It would make me feel less alone in this struggle as well - sometimes I feel so pathetic that this is difficult).

FredaMayor Fri 11-Dec-15 09:44:16

IME the 'freezing' thing can come from past experiences, possibly back into childhood. I can't suggest an easy solution to it although there are times in my own life when I really wish I could have looked at a situation objectively and seen it for what it was instead of going into defence/flight mode when (particularly) older people were trying to intimidate me.

What works for me is something that happened one day when my unfailingly toxic exMIL started on one of her digs at me -

"I'm sorry, remind me what we were just talking about?", looking at her over the top of my glasses. It always shut her up after that. I didn't delve into the reason why.

Now that I am older and wiser I only engage with someone on my terms which are to always be polite and constructive, and if the other person can be neither they lose my interest. That's not passive aggression, merely good manners.

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 10:06:15

Freda - that's interesting about the past experiences. I'll have a think and see if I can recall particular incidents. Generally, I was raised in an environment of aggression where there was no room for anyone's selfhood by my mother's, so I am sure the fact that assertiveness was high risk in the past has contributed to my tendency to be generally passive, and occasionally to explode when pushed too far. I'm trying to learn how to occupy the middle ground more.

I was wondering about just keeping talking over my MIL's interruptions, but I don't think she would respond to that. She relies on being given permission to be rude, on everyone making allowances and saying 'Oh, she's just socially awkward, she doesn't mean it'. Being rude back surely isn't the right way forward? I think I need to occupy the discursive space somehow. Maybe I should try to talk more slowly and when she starts to interrupt, use body language - like raising my hand in a 'stop sign' as if to say 'Wait until I've finished', then turning to her for the joke? Would that work?

RiceCrispieTreats Fri 11-Dec-15 10:15:08

The thing to remember with assertiveness, is that you can't label actions, or other people, as they can pick that apart (and it is hostile, which is no better than being passive). So don't tell your MIL that she's rude, or that her actions are rude: she will just deny it, and then the conversation will become about that.

Instead, focus on "I" statements: what you feel about the rude action, and what you need instead. Because only you get to decide how you feel, and what you need, and they can't pick that apart. They can still fight against it (and will), but your position is your position. Assertiveness is about stating that position, and then letting the other party react as they will.


<MIL compares you to the cat>
"I find that comment hurtful. Don't compare me to the cat."

<MIL interrupts a conversation>
"I'm talking. Let me finish my sentence." <and carry on>

Don't say please or sorry.
Don't get into debates about whether an action is rude or not: State how you feel about it, and then give a direct order for alternative behaviour.

Since you asked, a real-life example that comes to mind is the following: my parents have a pretty dysfunctional relationship, where my mother is controlling and demeaning, and my father just takes it and whimpers. It's awful. She's stopped doing it to me since I went NC for a year and a half. I still don't enjoy witnessing it when she turns her aggression on others. So last Christmas when she was laying into my Dad, I said: "I don't want to hear this." They stopped. If they had carried on I was prepared to walk away.

I didn't get into an argument about whether my mother's actions were justified or not: clearly she thought they were. I just stated my own, unassailable position, which is that I personally don't want to witness it.

Another example: I left an abusive ex-h 5 years ago. We still had to see each other from time to time with lawyers present to deal with our house sale. This meant that he would try to engage me in conversation in the waiting room before my lawyer had arrived. So, whenever he said anything to me, I would respond: "I'm not interested." Again, that's unassailable: I am the only judge of whether I am interested in holding a conversation or not. I gave no reason and no apology, because my position, which involves only me, is not open for debate (you can't state positions for other people). It leaves no leeway for manipulative types to try to control the conversation. And it worked.

RunRabbitRunRabbit Fri 11-Dec-15 10:33:22

Ignoring is OK, for low level aggressors who will back down if their first attempt to get a rise out of you fails. Your doesn't sound like she'll fold that easily.

Catty comments: you can go a long way with saying nothing but raising a slightly amused eyebrow. As if in your head you are thinking "Gosh you are such a potty dimwit of a person but ultimately harmless. Bless." At a push you can say a slow "Okaaaay" then carry on with the conversation as it was.

If you want to say something then pretending not to have heard properly is great "Sorry, I didn't catch that, can you say it again please?" (said in a nice tone of voice). She doesn't sound half so clever then to say "I said I bet you couldn't have done it without the cat either - I bought Grund a sign that says 'behind every great man is a great cat" It tends to sound lame and they know it. But I prefer the quiet eyebrow and Okaaaaay.

For interruptions, "Risse, Risse, RISSE..." Turn towards her, look her in the eye and say pleasantly and maybe eagerly "MIL has something important to add. What is it MIL?" Lame joke follows. Eyebrow raise. Okaaay. Return to conversation. If by some chance her comments are relevant to the conversation or important then she can join in. Not rude.

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 10:33:49

Thanks ricekrispies. I do remember reading in one of the books to avoid 'you' statements so I am sure you are right about this.

Could I rephrase it to be a bit gentler, like "I feel terrible when you compare me to the cat. I'd rather you didn't'?? I want to be assertive but not bossy, IYSWIM - I don't think I feel comfortable yet using the imperative.

I think one thing that I'm not accepting enough about is that you can't always have unity. I have this terrible desire to produce agreement, so that everyone is completely in accord. A lot of my behaviours are based on this impossible pipedream, and I feel that it has its own dangers of being manipulative (I really don't want to turn into one of those people who thinks everyone has to agree with them).

I love your example of "I don't want to hear this". I can see how powerful that must have been. Did it take you a long time to learn how to be so assertive? How did you learn?

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 10:44:17

Rabbit - This is where I get confused. Isn't the raised eyebrow technique technically aggressive? Aren't I supposed to be more articulate and say something like 'I feel really deprioritised when you interrupt me like that. Please let me finish and then you can make your joke, which I do think is funny'. Or something?!

God I'm shit at this.

I am also worried that I am going to spend and entire two days making I statements!! confused

grundrisse Fri 11-Dec-15 10:45:53

Sometimes I wish I could just be one of those people who are comfortable being nasty to others. It would be easier than trying to figure all this out!

FredaMayor Fri 11-Dec-15 11:03:31

Raise your eyebrows all you like, OP, it's a normal part of human communication. Where has it come from that it's aggressive, or has that been put about by the botox brigade? wink

FredaMayor Fri 11-Dec-15 11:07:58

The 'I feel' stuff shouldn't be taken too literally, should it?

A propos of passive aggression, I have often wondered if constant blinking by someone when they are talking to you and avoiding eye contact comes into that category. Personally I take whistling indoors as pretty much a declaration of war.

GeoffreysGoat Fri 11-Dec-15 11:23:39

"I don't like being compared to the cat. Please don't do it again" might be more concise?

I like the Okaaaaaay suggestion. I'm a fan of "As I was saying" too

RunRabbitRunRabbit Fri 11-Dec-15 11:24:53

Raised eyebrows are definitely not aggressive!

You are confused about assertiveness.

Could I rephrase it to be a bit gentler, like "I feel terrible when you compare me to the cat. I'd rather you didn't'?? I want to be assertive but not bossy, IYSWIM - I don't think I feel comfortable yet using the imperative.

That's not gentler: it is weaker. It is definitely NOT assertive.

It is you giving credence to her ludicrousness. Seriously, she compared your work to a cat! That's ridiculous. Unless you had your leg in the air licking your bits at the time. It is actually so stupid it is hilarious. Saying you are upset gives her great power. She said it specifically to put you down, to hurt you and you would have announced that she has been 100% successful. I'd rather you didn't in this context is begging your tormentor to please please please please be nice, which is exactly what she doesn't want to do. She'd like to hear you begging though.

You need to put yourself higher than her in the pecking order. Rephrasing to keep yourself in the lower position is not helpful it just reinforces her position of superiority.

Maybe you need a role model. Can you think of anyone who is obviously top of the tree, who would never be Jeremy Kyle aggressive but is always quietly assertive? What would Judi Dench as M do? Or Maggie Smith? Jean Luc Picard? Danger Mouse?

Do you think any of them are people pleasers, desperate for no one to ever be pissed off with them? Do you think they are big meanies or do you respect them?

You know that your MIL will be upset if you start putting her in her place. She might even escalate and become more aggressive. So?

Perhaps the problem is that you are scared of it turning aggressive. Part of being assertive is knowing you will handle it somehow if the other person does turn aggressive. Your childhood has perhaps trapped you into thinking you are the weakest person who will always lose in an aggressive situation.

You are not a child in her parent's home subject to their moods any more. You are an adult in your own home now. Be queen of your castle.

HilarysMantelpiece Fri 11-Dec-15 11:49:08

"Aren't I supposed to be more articulate and say something like 'I feel really deprioritised when you interrupt me like that. Please let me finish and then you can make your joke, which I do think is funny'. Or something?!

OP the thing that strikes me about your posts is that they are so 'wordy' and articulate...wonderful in some scenarios but not here.

Never, never, never try to reason with an unreasonable person

It strikes me that this is (as it most often is) about power.

Your power comes from your relationship with your DH (her DS)...she is trying to retain her power over him and assert power over you by cutting you down.

The need for power over another person is always a sign of can either feel sorry for her (not advisable) OR you can insist on not giving her an inch.

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