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by Dr. Jennifer Lagrotte, DMFT
When I was getting my master's degree I had the pleasure of working in an emergency room as a patient advocate. I was the person that made sure the E.R. ran smoothly, comforted family members when a loved one passed and much more. I learned so much from that experience, but the one thing that stuck with me the most was how different people tried to get their way which leads me to classify people as passive, aggressive, passive/aggressive, or assertive. These character traits are the focus of our topic this month.
A good deed is never lost: he who sows courtesy reaps friendship; and he who plants kindness gathers love.
Are you a passive person? Do you get upset and not say anything? Are you the kind of person that if you see something that is wrong you stay quiet about it and let someone else figure it out? Passive people tend to be quiet, with little to no outward opinion about topics. Are you okay with who you are? Passive people tend to be healthier because they do not sweat the small stuff and do not let things get to them. Does this describe you?
On the other end of the spectrum is the aggressive person. This person gets upset about any and all little things and can get into either a verbal or physical fight at any minute. This person will usually have either high blood pressure or a heart condition brought on by the stress of their anger. This is the person that you see yelling and ranting in the Emergency Room waiting room because they feel as if they are being neglected. Are you an aggressive person?
This personality type is the most common and can be the most dangerous of the four. When someone is passive/aggressive they will get upset about something but not say or do anything about it until a later date. Usually the aggression will come out in the form of an argument that has nothing to do with the incident that this person was upset about in the first place. Let's take the E.R. example again. You have been waiting for hours in the E.R. and you are sick and upset about waiting but do not want to cause trouble so you do not say or do anything until your name is called. Well, after 3 hours of waiting you finally get called, get seen and 8 hours later are on your way home. By this time, the aggression has come out and you call your spouse who wasn't there with you in the E.R. and they ask with concern how you are and you go off on them and let them have it. Passive/aggressive people do not always know that their aggression toward people is caused by previous passive behavior. This is a classic example and this type of behavior can cause serious damage to you and your loved ones by not being able to express your true emotions and not understanding how to handle certain situations.
Assertiveness is the behavior that we should all strive to be. My definition of assertive behavior is when you can clearly articulate your wants or needs without upsetting anyone else. Let's go back to the E.R. When working in the Emergency Room, I noticed that for the most part, people just wanted to know that they were not forgotten and that they were being taken care of. So, how would an assertive person handle a 3 hour wait in the E.R. waiting room? They would ask periodically what is going on and how much longer they had to wait. If they felt as if they were going to get angry, they would either talk it out, work on staying calm or take a walk. Remember being assertive is not getting your way by acting out, that is considered aggressive behavior. Assertive behavior is first knowing what you want and second, knowing how to communicate your needs effectively. If you are angry, it is much harder to communicate effectively, so if you are just starting out with assertive behavior, you need to remember these points.
- Always realize that you should think about what you say before you say it.
- Someone has to make the first move and in the end, it does not matter who does it.
- You always have to remember your goal and keep that in mind.
- There is no room for an ego or stubbornness when it comes to being assertive.
- Become aware of who you are and how you act/react to things.
- Remember that the only thing we can control is how we act or how we react to people or situations.
- Do not get upset at yourself for making a mistake, this is a learning process and the more mistakes you make the more you learn.
- Always try again, you never have to be stuck in one behavior pattern, keep striving to be your best.
That being said, assertiveness is a work in progress and should be taken in stride. You can do it if you put your mind to it.
Dr. Jennifer B Lagrotte, DMFT
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