May 31, 2008

Asserting Ourselves

French academic artist: Pierre Carrier-Belleuse

How do you handle confrontation? Do you fear standing up for yourself? Many of us silenced our voices because a narcissist retaliated or raged when we disagreed. As a consequence, we struggle for balance going to one extreme or the other: saying too much; or saying nothing at all.

Sometimes, I silence myself because I fear alienation from people I care about, but with whom I have countless differences. However, silencing myself has negative repercussions because I retaliate for having been silenced. The hilarious thing is: I do it to myself. Well, you know the old saying, "Short-term compliance results in long-term resentment." (You probably don't know that old saying since I butchered it something terrible but maybe it's close enough to get the gist of how we react passive-aggressively to silencing. Even self-silencing).

Two days ago I had the opportunity to assert myself at Home Depot. Yup, the Home Depot: a whirlpool of machismo that's In Your Face. Especially if you're an oldish woman expected to praise strong, buffed men lifting heavy plants. The reason I'm writing about this is because I’ve changed. For the past six years, I’ve been working a Recovery-from-Deference Program. I may have understood gender differences on an intellectual level but didn't know how to manage my reactions if Pollyanna met Paul Bunyan and was expected to praise his muscles while diminishing her ability to help herself.

Here’s the scenario: My sister and I have been landscaping our front yards this spring and since she has the pick-up truck and I have the green thumb vision, we've become inseparable shopping buddies. That day, I selected eight heavy arborvitaes for my yard along with ten huge bags of compost-enriched garden soil and who do you think loaded it on Home Depot’s flatbed? Yup. Me, myself and I. When I got to the check-out counter the cashier asked if I wanted help unloading the mini-forest and I figured some help would be good so I told her, "Sure."

She asks a thirty-something-aged employee with the nametag Rob, if he was available and he agreed. We walked together towards my sister's truck (evidently, he thought I was shopping alone) and the first thing he said was, "You can't fit all this stuff on your little truck."

"Well, I did it before, so I see no reason why it can't be done now."

"Maybe you did it before. But there's no way you bought this much stuff."

"You're right. I bought a lot more."

"No you didn't. I've been loading trucks for years and it's impossible to fit this much stuff on a truck this size."

I took note of his invalidation concerning my girl-truck. I also took note of the fact he wanted validation for his superior skills fitting numerous items in a limited space. Pray tell, what man in his right mind would argue about a woman’s ability to cram lots of stuff in little-bitty spaces???

I said, "You might have a valid point. Let's load whatever we can and I'll come back for the rest later. Would that be acceptable?" He grimaced---unwilling to acknowledge my pragmatic solution.

I dropped the tail-gate and he started hefting massive pots of shrubbery, sliding them onto the truck bed. The whole time, he was groaning and moaning and pizzing-in-his-britches about how BAD his back was; how his TENDONITIS was killing him; how his shoulder was SUFFERING excruciating pain because of my giant-sized shrubbery.

The gender appropriate thing would have been for me to gush, "WOW! You are so STRONG! I could never do this without you and gosh, aren't I lucky a wimpy thing like me can be rescued by a big, strong guy like you!" The woman who was expected to demean herself by making him my rescuing hero. But I didn't say anything of the sort.

The big deal about this is that my gut was grumbling with anger and I knew sumthin' was up since I don't get mad very often. The bigger deal is that I didn’t silence myself or react angrily. I replied kindly though maybe a tad cynically, "Why don't you go inside and let me load it myself?"

Without waiting for his answer, I picked up a bag of dirt, aided by the adrenalin coursing through my body, and threw it on the truck. Grabbed another bag and threw it on the truck. When I glanced at him, he wasn't appreciative of my muscle mass. Instead, he said, (can you believe this??) "Well, those bags of dirt aren't nearly as heavy as the shrubbery pots I'm lifting."

So I replied, "You’re right about that. But who do you think loaded those pots on the flatbed in the first place? And who do you think is gonna unload those pots, dig the holes and plant the monster shrubs?"

He didn't like that answer. I knew he didn't like it because he started huffing and puffing even louder than before. After loading the final item on the truck, I said, "Well, lookie there. It's a miracle. Everything fit after all."

The interesting twist on this scenario is that my sister was still checking out at the register when Rob sauntered through the doorway. He had no idea she was shopping with me. He also didn’t know she was the owner of the sissy truck. When she carried her purchases to the truck, she said, "What’d ya say to that guy, CZ?? When he came in the store, he was rolling his eyes and nodding his head back towards you."

I think I'll write a customer complaint. Home Depot ought not hire men who need to have their egos soothed at the expense of paying customers. Even if those paying customers are middle-aged women with an attitude.

The thing is, this was a huge change in my typical behavior that had painfully been pointed out during my divorce. The attorney mediating my divorce after thirty-four years of marriage said, "I've observed, Mr. soon-to-be-X, that CZ automatically defers to you."

DEFERS? O man, that 'bout made me vomit though it was an accurate perception of how I had done my gender well enough for a machismo maN to continue believing he was the only one who could lift heavy things. Ever lift a ballerina's tutu? It weighs almost as much as she does; but her job is creating an illusion of delicacy floating around the planet while the tips of her toes are bleeding.

My Home Depot experience was a very big deal for me, though some people might not understand how difficult it's been asserting myself when we intuitively know the correct-thing-to-do is shushing our mouths, mushing our brains---maintain the status quo at the expense of our integrity. I didn't yell at the guy, nor did I tell him to shove that arborvitae up his you-know-what. I simply took over the job myself and reminded him that men, who can't lift heavy things, ought not be working at the Home Depot.

I think I did 'good enough'. It was definitely an improvement over my past behavior. Being assertive means validating myself rather than seeking validation from others. I’m pretty sure Rob would have willingly validated my helplessness by stealing my sense of competence. It would have been easier to silence myself or give the guy a pat on his back. But if we say we want the status quo to change then we must change our status quo behavior. Even when asserting ourselves makes some folks roll their eyes.

His arrogant behavior was basically…well…it was basically just tutu much. Even for this ol’ gal, raised in the day and age when women were deferential to authority figures. Which included deferring to the head-of-the-household, otherwise known as her husband.

Hugs all,


  1. Dang CZ, if you weren't just a itty bitty tutu heftin' gender splicing wOman, I'd ask you to marry me!

    I still sometimes get caught in my own deferential britches. Your story inspires me to keep searching for my non-deferential, validating voice so I can step confidently in my own competence to be enough -- and to scream it out at the top of my lungs!

    You go WOMAN!

    Kidding aside, okay, so not all kidding, I would marry you if I weren't in love with a man who's learning all about what it means to be with a woman who ain't no sugar plum fairy -- any way, back to the not kidding stuff. You rock. This is an awesome tale of woman voice rising in proud assertation of all it means to be magnificent!

    Thanks my friend.


  2. I think this experience is a break through. Just speaking up and not mushing is for you and you alone. It matters not what the other persons response ever they interpret it. It is OK ot tell people what your experience of them is. If the guy is a wimping complainer who still wishes to receive the macho award...well i don't like the invitation to lie or an invitation with strings attached.

    Awesome Entry

    Anonymous -

  3. Hi Louise!

    You're not the sugar plum fairy??? LOL! But you seem so NICE?? (there's that "nice" word again).

    Hey, I'm still a 'nice' person but now that I'm more aware of Gender Differences, I can make a choice as to how I'll deal with an conflict. I think AWARENESS is an important point to make, too.

    When we're 'unconscious' to the underlying dynamics, that's when we REACT to our emotions because on some level, we know we're being 'dissed' but we can't make sense of it cognitively. Once we do our homework, we have a better chance asserting ourselves without being just as rude as the unconscious fool that's In Our Face.

    When I was actively attending college in Women's Studies, I had very little hope of NOT chopping a man's head off if he dared act on his male privilege. But that didn't work too well for me since I detest being a jerk.

    It's taken a few years to let the Truth of socialization settle in my gut and allow my brain to kick in and 'choose my behavior' rather than react: either telling him off OR silencing myself. Those aren't the only options we have to choose from but it might take awhile before we are able to moderate our responses.

    You know Louise, I'd like to grow up to be a nice, kind person who is fully away of herself and others and doesn't react to social inequities requiring far more time than I have left on the planet. So I do my part (or at least try to do my part) encouraging change and keeping the faith that the future will change for the better...maybe in about 700 years or so, but it WILL change.

    Thanks for commenting. I always enjoy hearing from you!


  4. Hi CZBZ...about being "dissed" and the underlying dynamics. For me it gets all the way down to ..not why I am the the target of the diss action but What really is the dissing person doing. I figure into the equation that when some one is dissing they are dissing an aspect of themselves. Peoples actions are rarely clean. They are not all about what is present in fact the dissing action is an obvious to the fact that the other person is reacting to triggeredness ...something inside of other person that is already in existence.Therefore the helper monkeys actions or lack of are all about him and what he refuses to deal with within himself.

    I figure there are a few or more responses to this sort of situation. It looks to me like some one is calling some one a name and in more words than one. With out knowing it, the bloke was looking for conflict. So one response would be to not give him any fuel for his fire. That is when your idea of moderate response is in order. Yet if one is triggered with unresolved states of emotions...such as feeling pressed into some type of box with labels that we are identifying with then the conflict begins even if we say all the right things.

    I mean I have rescued myself and said the right things in situations such as the one you express. But, I still go home feeling like shit. I have experienced myself playing ball even after I am off the mount. coming away from a predicament
    Seething and making up even more dialogues.

    Now digging into these horrible spots where somewhere along the line I must have agreed or was convinced of my limitations about being female, about being young or being old or being blond or being just flat out me...something like that.

    When ever i get really upset about another person reactions or actions, word or other...I know it is time for me to just check out what and where i am at. I mean I could get a little upset, a lot upset or remain unaffected when a man parks his car in front of the air compressor while I wait to pump my tires up ..he is standing out talking on his cell phone. I treat this the same way I deal with scary drivers. It is all lack of awareness and women do it as well.

    If i decide to say something to the man with his ear attached to a piece of metal I better make it clean. I mean to take anger/frustration to the plat form about the audacity, I am making it personal.His or Her problem becomes more of my problem. My heart rate changes, my pulse goes up and I am more disturbed than if I just notice a fellow human being acting unconsciously.Then comes the another I want to make the effort to clue him in??????? do I intend to make my trip to the gas station about educating????? I have learned something about teaching in the past decade. I know that for some people they get it right away and for others it takes more time and for yet others it will not happen...well not in my class.

    So for me it gets down to how much of myself am I willing to spend on a situation that is frustrating because the person I am trying to communicate with is sleep walking and going through the same old steps they have been going through for 20 more or less years?

    How can I find the right thing to say to this particular person.I used to get embarrassed because i had to handle people like dummies. but now I just do what ever needs to be done to get the job finished.
    If some one is determined to "shit where they eat" then I tolerate it and leave them in their own DU.

    this would be my way of getting through hypocritical and privileged situations. Then there is the old action of talking about my own problems and flooding the air waves. That seems to be a sort of curious way to divert the energies so that the person is all about getting the hell away from me or just seeing how far they will go in terms of attaching to the distraction (my words). I have done this many times. It does work. It is not my preferred strategy but it does mix things up a bit and it serves me so that I don't get swallowed by anger. This is simply a defense formula which is quite handy in some situations. I play on the other persons thinking. If the person wants to pigeon hole me...well I will use the hole to my advantage. This means they remain content with their thinking and i get in and out with out dealing with listening to them growl because they don't want to wake up.

    I have learned some very interesting methods in order to function with out wrecking my energy so that I can get a job done with out getting bogged down.

    There are many more ways than this. I am changing gears all the time depending on the person. and it is not personal. I don't lose sight of myself.

    It gets down to how much worth we are giving some one's words. It is foolish to think that I owe every one the same ear. in as much as the other person believes I should give them that block of time and energy.

    Hey, I'll pencil you in for your personal history in about the year 4000 but for now either do or don't other than that... doesn't sound very nice.Well, some time being nice to myself proceeds my fellow human being. It is all about balance.

    By the way, the man talking on his cell never moved the position of his car. I had to go around him and back in to get the job done. I really didn't even want to have to talk to a person with out awareness. Seriously...and I didn't get mad either. I just served myself the easiest way possible. Easier to move my car then to spend my quality voice on a deaf person.I viewed the person as an obstacle and treated it with intelligence not identifying with his lack of consideration.

    Make sense?

    Anon eyes

    P.S."Male privilege" is lack of awareness at its core. It is no more or less than a woman cutting in line.

  5. "It matters not what the other persons response ever they interpret it." ~Anonymous

    I appreciated your insightful comment, anonymous. You're so right about allowing other people to think whatever they want to think without appeasing them OR convincing them we're worthy not the person they think we are.

    Speaking for myself, let me say that it was a huge challenge letting people have an unfavorable opinion of me but as long as I kept trying to convince them I was NOT the person they believed me to be, they held the power and I didn't.

    I was seeking validation from someone who now had the power to invalidate me.

    People believe what they choose to believe. Each of us can discount, dismiss and completely ignore any evidence to the contrary of our favored assumptions. If we don't wanna like somebody, we'll find evidence to support that view.

    "Pleasers" have a hard time displeasing might even be a common personality trait for partners of Ns.

    Thanks for replying!


  6. Gees, Thanks for reading. I didn't quite realize I was going on all over the place. I blame it on this mornings chai.

    You are right about if someone aspires to calling a hat a frame they will find a way.

    thats a slam dunk for this evening.

    Thanks CZBZ

  7. It's being nice/kind/thoughtful but not a pushover. I've never been a pushover, but somebody did push me over once. Completely explicitly sold out myself to one person once. With nothing to gain afterwords It's just finding the middle ground...

    1. Your comment got me thinking, Anonymous. We can learn assertiveness skills, verbal defense skills, all about Ns and Ps and Cluster Bs. We can even learn Red Flags and Green Ones. But in the end, we must open our hearts to being hurt IF we want intimate and meaningful relationships.

      The only way to "not" be a pushover, to "not" be hurt again, is to live in an ivory tower with only enough room for one. That's no way to live either. Instead, we're much happier if we allow people to love us OR NOT; to befriend us OR NOT; to like us OR NOT. It takes some kind of serious guts to live this way but when we do, we become less and less susceptible to attaching to those who can't reciprocate trust, empathy, love---all the good things about relationships.

      You'll find your middle ground and you won't be as vulnerable to being pushed over the next time.

      Best of luck---keep loving!



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