If you feel like you’re always being taken advantage of, and it seems like you’re on the losing end of every situation, it’s time to turn things around. Here’s a few ways you can change your mindset and become the strong, assertive person you want to be.
What Does It Mean to Be a Pushover?
When you boil it all down, being a pushover means that you’re easily defeated or taken advantage of. You tend to do things you don’t want to do because you’d rather avoid confrontation, you’re unquestionably obedient to someone and you tell yourself that’s just the way it is, and you don’t stand up for your opinions, perspectives, or ideas.
But being a pushover doesn’t mean you are weak! It just means that you’re missing the tools you need to defend yourself. No one is telling you that you have to change who you are, or that you have to be selfish all the time. But if you feel like you’re constantly being taken advantage of, it’s time to stand up for who you are and get strong. These are the keys to defending who you are, and maybe even pushing back a little.
Identify the Things You Don’t Want to Do
We all know when we don’t want to do something, but it can be easy to carry on in a drone mindset and still end up doing those things out of habit. To combat this, you need to take some time to really identify what it is you don’t want to do. Obviously, you need to be reasonable here — we all have to work and so on — but you need to think about the ways you’ve been taken advantage of. Melody Wilding at weblog The Muse recommends creating a “to-don’t” list:
Set aside time at the beginning of your day (or whenever you feel least distracted) to take stock of your responsibilities. For each to-do item, ask yourself: “What will I accomplish or learn from this? How will it help me advance?” Now, as you scan your list, be bullish about moving anything that does not align with your top priorities to a “to-don’t” list.
You can create a to-don’t list for work, home, or any specific place or group of people that you feel weak around. What’s important is that you’re honest with yourself and list the things that you don’t want to do or really aren’t worth your time. Stressed out because you’re constantly doing favours for coworkers? Move some of their tasks to the to-don’t list; you have your own job to do. Always the one that has to pick up drinks and snacks when your friends all get together? Move it to your list and ask someone else to get things this time around.
It can be hard to identify times you’ve been taken advantage of when you’ve gotten used to things, so it’s OK to ask someone for help. It’s always easier for someone on the outside to size up situations, and a close friend or family member that you trust might be able to help you. Knowing what you do and do not want to do is essential to developing confidence and assertiveness.
Express How You Feel About Things
If people don’t know how you feel, they will never adjust how they treat you. It’s possible that they don’t even know that they’re walking all over you because you might be too passive. In your mind, you might think of yourself as a peacekeeper or someone who takes things in stride, but to manipulative types, you’re a target. Manipulative people aren’t inherently bad — at least not always — but they will automatically seek you out because you don’t express anything when something comes your way. Of course, you won’t mind running that errand because you don’t want to rock the boat, right?
This is why expression is so important. It’s OK to roll with the punches, but you need to get vocal about how you feel. Eddie Chandler at weblog AskMen explains the importance of expressing yourself in every situation:
Listen to your instincts. When something bothers you or you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s best to speak up right away. This might take some practice. If you miss your chance on the spot, plan your strategy to bring up the issue privately later. Ask for a meeting with your colleague and explain how you feel about short deadlines with no advance notice. Tell your girlfriend you didn’t like her regaling everyone at the dinner table with details about your sex life. You need to speak up. Discuss these issues calmly, without accusations, and you will reduce your own tension and gradually change how others perceive and treat you.
You’d be surprised how much will change just from you actually saying how you feel about something. People don’t know how you feel until you tell them, and more often than not, people will admit they had no idea how you felt about something. This won’t change everything overnight, but over time, everyone in your life will know exactly how you feel about things and change how they treat you.
Learn to Say No
“No” is a pushover’s Mt Everest. “No” means confrontation, “no” means letting someone down, and “no” means you’re not a nice person, right? Wrong. Saying “no” is the most freeing thing any pushover could do. Saying “no” expresses that your time is valuable, and that you aren’t a tool for someone to use. It’s not easy to do when you’re not used to saying it, but you can do it without being a jerk and break your people pleaser mentality.
Think to yourself, at any point have you thought about saying “no” to something? If you have, you know those are things that you should consider actually saying “no” to. It helps to contemplate what saying “yes” to something really means. When you agree to something, you’re accepting responsibility and sacrificing your time. Each time you say “no”, you’re buying yourself time and saving energy to focus on your own responsibilities. Remember, saying no isn’t like you’re flipping somebody off. You can still be every bit as nice as you’ve always been. You’re just articulating that your time is valuable and that you have your own things to take care of.
So, how do you say no? It’s hard to flat out say “No, I can’t” when you’re not used it, so you can learn to say “no” in a variety of ways. Weblog Zenhabits suggests a couple of simple ways you can say “no” depending on the situation:
“I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.”
“Now’s not a good time as I’m in the middle of something. How about we reconnect at X time?”
“I’d love to do this, but…”
“Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.”
“This doesn’t meet my needs now but I’ll be sure to keep you in mind.”
“I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try X?”
It’s all about figuring out the right way to say “no” for the right situations. Another way is to change the wording you use to say “no”. You can say “I can’t” instead of just “no”, or say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t”. By adjusting the phrasing you use, you’re not only getting your point across, but you’re also empowering yourself to say “no” more often.
Pick Your Battles and Be Assertive
It’s important to know when to stand up for yourself. Not every situation is a good time to puff up your chest and say “don’t tread on me.” Analyse the situation and be sure that the fight you’re picking actually matters. Ask yourself, “is the situation so distressing that it needs to be addressed?” If no, note how you feel about it and consider bringing it up at a later date when your emotions are more in check.
If a situation is distressing enough, explain how you feel right then and there. Jim Camp at Business Insider calls it “outing the elephant“:
If there’s a big, unspoken problem neither of you wants to talk about, don’t ignore it. Bringing it into the open clears the air and gives you the upper hand.
Just be sure you fight constructively, and focus on a solution to the issue, not just the emotions you’re experiencing. While fighting constructively, it’s important to be assertive toward your stance. Assertive people are direct and honest, but also keep calm and civil despite the situation. You can’t expect people to read your mind, but you also have to be aware that you can’t control other people’s behaviour.
If you’re having a hard time finding a way to be assertive, start small. Brett & Kate McKay at blog The Art of Manliness suggest working your way up to the big stuff:
If the thought of standing up for yourself makes you downright nauseous, start with low-risk situations. For example, if you order a burger, and the waiter brings you a grilled cheese, let him know the mistake and send it back. If you’re out running errands on the weekend with your wife and are trying to decide on a place to eat, don’t just automatically defer, but chime in as to where you’d like to go. Once you feel comfortable in these low-risk situations, start upping the ante little by little.
There’s no need to feel guilty or apologise for asserting how you feel about something, but it takes time to get used to it. Find confidence in yourself, and you’ll gradually develop a habit of standing up for what you think is best.
Stick With It
This is all going to take time. Remember, you’re not only changing how you act and react, but you’re also changing how other people act toward you. Karen at blog A Meaningful Existence explains how it’s up to you to set the bar:
You know that we teach others how to treat us, right? By not standing up for yourself and letting others have their way, you’re teaching them that your rights are not important.
Nothing will change for you if you don’t train others on how you’d like to be treated. You can’t control them, but you can make it known that you want to be treated a certain way. It won’t happen overnight, and you’ll need to constantly remind yourself to be upfront. Eventually, people will notice that you’re acting differently, but don’t let their confusion throw you off. You’ve never voiced your thoughts, but they will get used to the new you over time.
You don’t have to be a pushover to be a good person. You can be nice and helpful to others without letting them walk all over you. Figure out what things you don’t want to do for others, and express how you feel when something isn’t right to you. Be assertive about how you feel, and eventually you’ll be standing tall, ready to push back.