Step One: Awareness
I grew up in a poor, turbulent and dysfunctional household surrounded by alcohol, violence, hospitalisations and police intervention.
I developed OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, I self-harmed, drank, took drugs and was miserable, but I was able to turn it around.
It took me years to even begin to realise I was fucked up. When negativity is all you know, it all appears so normal.
Becoming aware there is a problem at all is the first step we must take before anything else can begin.
You can’t dig yourself out of a hole until you know you’re in one.
I began my self-help journey as my marriage fell apart in 2014. I should never have married the person I was with, but I was looking for the stability I lacked in my upbringing, so I recklessly dived in with abandon.
I took the initial step of going to therapy because I felt like I was having a breakdown. I didn’t understand my marriage was in meltdown and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how angry I was about my childhood.
To be clear, therapy is self-help.
It is reaching out and allowing someone to take your arm, to carry you some of the way. Reaching out for help is, in some ways, the ultimate self-help. It is surrendering to the pain, it is awareness of the problem.
The moment you walk through a therapist’s door is when healing can begin.
After some weeks of digging for epiphanies, my therapist recommended I attend group therapy for those who grew up in alcoholic families. I was hesitant, expecting group hugs and embarrassing hand-holding, but went anyway, only to find it was amazing to hear people tell my story and have identical experiences. It helped immeasurably.
Step Two: Acceptance
Acceptance is the second stage of healing. Group therapy taught me it’s OK to admit I was hurt, angry and fucked up by my formative years. For the longest time, I had gritted my teeth and insisted otherwise.
I never wanted to accept I was a victim, so I couldn’t heal what I refused to accept.
Therapy told me it was normal to be traumatised by traumatic events. It taught me how to move on and grow. It taught me to accept my emotional predicament so I could work through it and ultimately, it let go.
Alongside this work, I got deep into personal development and self-help. Speakers such as Tony Robbins, Eric Thomas, Les Brown and CT Fletcher showed me the past doesn’t have to be the present. Each of these men came from trauma-based upbringings, each are now powerhouses of wisdom.
Tips for practicing assertive communication:
- Check in with yourself regularly to find out what you’re feeling and what you need (you can’t ask for what you want if you don’t know what it is!).
- Prepare for difficult conversations. Plan and practice what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. Writing a script can be helpful preparation.
- Pick an optimal time to express your thoughts and feelings. Be sure you have the other person’s full attention. We all know it doesn’t work to try to talk to someone when they’re engrossed in the TV or computer; nor is it productive to talk to someone who’s under the influence or already very angry.
If you’re angry or anxious, do something to calm yourself down.
- Ask for what you want. You have to be clear and direct in asking for your needs to be met. We often make the mistake of expecting people to just know what we want. No matter how long you’ve been married or how long you’ve worked for the same boss, it’s not fair to expect them to know what you want or need. You have to ask directly.
- Remain true to your feelings and needs. As I said earlier, asking doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your needs will be met. But, remember that you still have the right to ask.
- Use “I statements”. This technique helps you express your feelings and needs without blame. There is a simple formula for an “I statement” that sounds like this: I am feeling ____________ (unappreciated) because __________ (I went out of my way to drive you to the airport and you didn’t say thank you) and I’d like ___________ (you to acknowledge that my feelings are hurt and apologize). You can read more here.
- Respectful communication isn’t just about asking for what you need; it also requires active listening to understand the other person’s point of view.
- Assertiveness is a skill. The more you practice, the easier it will become.