Sherry (*fictionalized client) is a 42 year old woman with a full time job and three teenagers at home. To say that she is “busy” is an understatement. Sherry came to therapy due to feeling stressed out and angry with the important people in her life.
During the process of therapy Sherry identified her typical style of communicating with others and her feelings about those interactions. She came to understand that she tends to be a “passive communicator.” This means she allowed others to dictate what would happen and what she would do without speaking up for herself.
Some of the time this was ok, but in many situations she was not ok with what was happening and ultimately grew angry and resentful in the relationship. Sherry thought she was doing the right thing by being passive because it didn’t start a potential conflict with the other person. But in effect, she was harming the relationship by not speaking up for herself.
Sherry’s children wanted her to drive them to school every morning when they could have just as easily taken the bus. This made her late for work most days, which increased her stress level and ultimately made her feel irritable and resentful towards her children.
The Assertiveness Script
Once we identified her tendency to be a “passive communicator” we discussed what it means to be “assertive.” In my mind assertiveness means asking for what you want or need in a firm, but respectful way. An easy way of using this communication skill is by filling in the blanks in an “assertiveness script.” There are 3 parts to this:
I think (describe the facts of the situation).
I feel (describe how you feel about the situation).
I want (ask for what you want or suggest a possible solution to the problem and invite the other person to help problem solve).
Here is an example of how to use this based on Sherry’s situation of not wanting to drive her children to school:
I think every morning when I drive you to school I end up being late for work.
I feel stressed out because my boss has reminded me to be on time recently and I am afraid I will get in trouble at work.
I want you to take the bus to school so I can get to work on time.
Obviously, you can use the template and put your situation into your own words how it makes sense for you. When you offer the “I want” you may want to enter in to a negotiation with that person and that is fine. For example, Sherry’s kids may counter that they would get ready earlier so she wasn’t late to work if she drove them.
Ultimately Sherry learned to not only be more assertive with her kids, but also in other relationships. She felt less stressed out and more in control of her life. She was also less angry because she felts like her wants and needs were being met instead of always being put last.
In what relationships or circumstances in your life do you think you could use the assertiveness script?
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.