Reframing Assertiveness

I have noticed that one of the ongoing battles in my life is learning to be assertive.  I observe this in the lives of people who have left abusive family environments.  There seems to be an extreme.  Either people are highly reactionary claiming that they don’t have to put up with anything thusly behaving in an almost bully-like way towards anyone and everyone, or they become welcome mats for victimization beckoning everyone to push them around, never self-advocating.

I used to be the latter, and it didn’t help that I hated confrontations.  What’s more, distorted interpretations of biblical teachings only kept me under people’s dirty shoes.  “Turn the other cheek!”  For those of us from intense family environments seeking empowerment and wholeness, self-advocacy can be a very difficult skill to learn.

Enter the stubborn barista.

Life provides ample opportunities for us when it’s time to practice assertiveness and grow in self-advocacy.  Who might be the perfect person with whom to practice? Any resentful person working in customer service, but I’ve found that the best place to pick up assertiveness skills is at a café because you will no doubt eventually deal with a barista who’d rather be anywhere than in front of you.

An opportunity arose today.  My youngest daughter went to her new therapist today, and I promised that we would stop by a Starbucks or Caribou for a drink topped with whipped cream as a reward.  She agreed that this was an appropriate compensation.  When we arrived at Starbucks, we were faced with not one but two unenthused baristas.  Their blasé expressions foretold of mediocre beverage preparation.  I ordered my daughter’s drink, and it was made improperly as I expected.  I immediately started to sweat.  “Oh no, I have to be assertive.  Damn.”  I approached the counter.  “Uh…so…this drink doesn’t have whipped cream on it.  So…uh…would you mind putting whipped cream on it?”  The barista continued to make beverages as she spoke with me.  “Most people don’t want whipped cream on their smoothies.”

I was thoughtful for a moment.  It’s going to be one of those interactions.  A wrong-and-right sort of conversation.  “Well, that does make sense,” I answered,”but this isn’t a smoothie.  It’s a Frappuccino®.  Don’t they always come with whipped cream?”  She paused and looked at me for a moment.  I smiled and suddenly felt the need to fidget with a wooden stirring stick.  “I’ll put whipped cream on it,” she said curtly without smiling.  “Thank you so much,” I said sincerely.  “My daughter will be very happy.”  She handed it to me and said quickly, “Yeah, no problem.”

I hate being assertive.  It is contrary to my peacemaking nature.  I particularly do not like asking for something to be redone when the original was done improperly.  This has happened to me numerous times in cafés, and I’ve chosen to make it right.  I have seemingly always met with grouchy baristas who resent being asked to make a drink properly.  One even openly argued with me when she made a completely different drink than I ordered.

These are very stressful interactions for me.  I loathe them, but, when I reframe them, I see that they are excellent practice, too.  In my family growing up, no one was allowed to have an opinion or a self.  There was, therefore, no point in attempting to self-advocate.  As adults, we need this practice.  We need to learn how to ask for what we need and want in a way that respects who we are as well as the person to whom we are speaking.  I can say that I have always been respectful even when the person on the other side has not.  That takes practice, too.

So, the next time that your drink is made improperly or your meal arrives and it’s wrong, think of what you might do next as an opportunity to practice self-advocacy and assertiveness.  You can’t help what your server or barista might do in response to your attempts to right a wrong, but you can take advantage of an opportunity to practice being respectfully assertive.  I still don’t like it, but at least I know that I can do it.  That’s distress tolerance! It’s also, well, good therapy.

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8 thoughts on “Reframing Assertiveness

  1. Thanks for sharing this! It sounds like I come from a similar family background, and I also struggle with assertiveness and self-advocacy. And my interpretation “turn the other cheek” really threw me for so long! I’m getting much better at it, but it’s still very uncomfortable. Thankfully, that icky feeling doesn’t last very long!

    • Thanks for commenting. Yes, it is uncomfortable to be assertive. I’m much better at it now, and I’m much more comfortable at advocating for others. Still, it never ceases to amaze me at what will make me sweat–an improperly made drink. Just last night it happened again, and I really had to do the pros and cons in my head over it. Old training is hard to overcome sometimes.

  2. Sometimes my therapist hsd me drive through the fast food place just to order ice water, or go into a store snd ask them to make change and not buy anything. Seems silly but I found it much harder to do it for just myself than when I had my children with me and they had been thirsty or it was their need, like using a restroom at a restaurant without ordering food. Great post!

    • Yes, doing for others is easier, isn’t it? I think it’s easier because their worth is easier to see and, therefore, fight for. Last night was my 19th wedding anniversary, and the same damn thing happened! I ordered a mocktail but was given a French Riviera instead–a fully loaded drink. I started drinking it, and I asked my husband to taste it, “Does this taste alcoholic to you?” Neither of us could tell. It tasted good, but the citrus taste was so overpowering that we honestly weren’t certain. I started to feel weird, and what with all the meds I’m on currently, I should NOT be drinking. So, I stopped. Sure enough, the bill came, and it was the wrong drink! My husband said, “Ah, it doesn’t matter.” And that did it for me. “Yes, it matters! We shouldn’t have to pay for something that we did NOT order!” And I was so ready to go to bat over a drink, once again. It’s really about our needs/wants mattering, too, and feeling good about fighting for them. It gets easier the more you do it, but I still cringe on the inside.

  3. Pingback: An Assertiveness Serendipity | Out of the Mire

  4. Really interesting post. I remember a few times in restaurants my partner complaining to the waiter/waitress that his order was wrong and I would get so embarrassed. I thought he was being rude so it’s good to hear this from another perspective. I definitely experienced the same thing growing up and now I struggle with being assertive on a daily basis. I’ve been reading up on assertiveness and it’s been really useful to see different responses you can give rather than agreeing to things you disagree with deep down.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you found this helpful. I find assertiveness to be a process. It’s not easy, but it gets easier. With practice…and MOAR practice.

  5. Pingback: Healthy Assertiveness | Out of the Mire

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