Intermission: More Assertiveness Training

Stop the presses! Read all about it! I was assertive and didn’t like it! With whom was I assertive?

A rabbi.  I was assertive with a rabbi!!!

I feel stressed thinking about it, but I did it anyway.  A rabbi is no grumpy barista.  Far from it! A rabbi is no youth pastor either.  Rabbis are…well, gosh.  Well, it’s all in how I perceive them to be.  I would have no problem being assertive with this rabbi if I perceived him to be like my Aunt Esther although she was revered in the family so I would let her get away with anything.  I’m assertive with my cats and with babies.  No.  I’m not.  What am I saying? Assertive with babies?

This rabbi intimidated me.  He is sponsoring my return to Judaism, and I have to meet with him monthly.  I am an unusual person, and I know this.  Neither rabbi at this synagogue has ever met a person who hails from a family of conversos, or anusim meaning ‘forced ones’ in Hebrew, which describes part of my family.  They are utterly bewildered by what my grandmother did to me when I was young forcing me to keep our family’s Jewishness a secret.  It’s a strange reality to maintain.  One wants to find a faith tradition to call one’s own, but it feels impossible at the same time knowing that part of you isn’t allowed to come forward.

So, I am treated like a convert, and it’s odd.  I understand, but it’s very invalidating.  His reasoning is that I haven’t been educated traditionally in religious school, therefore, I am not Jewish.  Identity is a funny thing.  All of the hidden children who survived the Holocaust, by this definition, would be non-Jews as well.  Logic aside, this isn’t my issue at present.  It was his attitude.

He said a few things that didn’t sit well with me, and his attitude regarding educating my daughters was insensitive at times.  I have to advocate for two of my daughters quite often because of their special needs, and this is when I can be fiercely assertive.  Advocating for them opened the door for me to self-advocate–something I am not very good at.  I know that he did not mean to come across this way, and I think that some of this is a difference in communication style.  He is very direct with very little allowance for different personalities.  Sitting across from him in his office under his scrutinizing stare is very hard.  It reminds me of the oral exams in college.  I feel like I’m being graded.  I strongly dislike it.

We have emailed in the past so I emailed him my concerns with much trepidation.  The point is that I did it.  After ruminating on how stressful my meeting with him had been, I decided to do something about it.  Communicate! Now, there’s a concept.  Actually tell the other person how you feel or what you think rather than just pretend that it’s all fine? Huh.

He emailed me back and, as I expected, invited me to meet with him again to, you know, talk about it.

How uncomfortable.

So, how might this apply to you? One entry point to assertiveness is advocating for someone else.  I was catalyzed to overcome the intimidation factor because of my strong desire to advocate for my daughters.  This led me to self-advocate.  So, if self-advocacy and assertiveness are difficult for you, then try looking for opportunities where you can be assertive on behalf of someone else.  Even if it’s something as benign as asking a barista to fix someone else’s drink rather than yours.  With practice, it gets easier and easier, and soon you’ll be asking for what you need, asking for what you want, clarifying expectations, and setting boundaries like a pro.

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