I have met many people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that have a very difficult time being assertive or confuse assertiveness with maladaptive responses that only create problems for them.
Perhaps there is something about living with a cocktail of symptoms every day that makes people with PTSD want to say yes to everything. But saying ‘yes’ all the time can have detrimental results for someone with PTSD, especially if that person has unmanaged stress and high anxiety.Being assertive is about demonstrating where you stand. It is about defending your point of view or goals. It is not about fighting, arguing, being aggressive or selfish. Being assertive means you are setting a boundary for how you want to be treated in respect to a topic, situation, or person.Click To Tweet
Learning to be assertive can help you set limits on the things you want to agree with and welcome in your life, all without draining your energy and/or neglecting to take care of yourself.
Think of these three scenarios…
Your coworker asked if they can hitch a ride to work with you every day of the following week while their car is being repaired.
Your girlfriend asked if it’s okay for her brother to come visit for a week.
Your neighbor just sent you a text message asking you, for the third time this week, to water her plants because she’s won’t make it on time.
About Being Assertive
PTSD symptoms may interfere with your ability to control what is asked of you, but you always have the power to control how you react to these requests. In my experience, people who lack assertiveness are too concerned with what would happen is they say ‘no.’
But knowing when to say ‘no’ is an essential tool for everyone to learn, especially for those with PTSD. When you learn to say ‘no’ you are learning to not go out of your way for others to the point of neglecting your own self. After all, how helpful or useful can you be to others if you are not doing well?
You cannot neglect your own needs, so here are some tips on how to learn to say ‘no’ when it is necessary for your own self-preservation.
Recognizing What You Can Give
Having all the information to help us recognize everything that we are willing to give before someone asks a favor would be great. However, it’s impossible for us to know what we are willing to give, especially when we have not been previously exposed to that request. We are then left with the choice of learning from our own experiences, even when faced with unique requests that are not comfortable for us.
For example, your girlfriend mentioned that her brother would be visiting for a week. You recognize that having a guest in your house for a week is something you can work with and tolerate. You recognize that having a guest stay in your home longer that a week will be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting and you won’t be able to focus on work because you’ll find yourself sacrificing your time and energy to accommodate for others.
By recognizing that you are okay with a guest staying for a week, you are able to be assertive about it, and open your home, time, and energy to your girlfriend’s brother for that time span only. Knowing what you are willing to give in this situation, before you give an answer to the request, helps you stand firm when you reply to the request.
Be Straight, Be Firm
Once you have recognized how much you can give, you can establish what your limits are when it comes to helping others. You must stick to these limits like glue because they will help you control stress and reduce anxiety.
Don’t over stress if at first you start feeling guilty. Setting boundaries can be challenging at first. If you start feeling guilty, perhaps you can counter it by adding a little suggestion at the end.
For example, you can tell your coworker that you can take them to work on Monday and Wednesday, but you won’t be able to do it the rest of the week because, let’s say, you don’t take the same route, or you don’t leave at the same time the rest of the days.
Being direct when setting boundaries makes you less vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others. Being assertive and sticking to your boundaries also helps you recognize when others are crossing the line of what you are willing and able to give them.
Don’t Apologize for Being Assertive
For most people, particularly for those with PTSD, feelings of guilt are often the hardest part about saying ‘no’ to the requests of others. Family and loved ones are usually the ones we have the most difficulty turning down a request from, but it’s important to put yourself first. Remember that saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean that you are letting someone down, even if you feel that you have to say sorry.
You never have to apologize for being assertive and setting your comfort boundaries. You never have to apologize for wanting to take care of yourself.
I have learned that too many unnecessary apologies open the door for discussion about the favor. So, if you’re unable, unwilling, or simply cannot do something that is being asked of you, don’t apologize. By not apologizing you are asserting that you are not going to give your time and energy to something outside of your comfort zone. This way, you will have more time and energy to help others when you desire.
Now, if you are someone prone to feeling too much guilt, then you can be open to discussion. Once you have identified your comfort boundaries when it comes to favors and are able to be assertive about these limits, you can offer help on your own terms.
For example, you can tell your neighbor that you are able to help her water her plants on the weekend, but you cannot do it any other day this week. By asserting your boundaries and offering a plausible solution to what is being asked of you may open yourself for discussions, especially with family members. If you find yourself in this situation, stop negotiating and stick to setting your boundaries until you are confident enough that you can handle these negotiations.
Just remember that being assertive and firm about your boundaries doesn’t stop you from being helpful to the world.
Don’t Fall Prey to Feelings of Guilt
It is hard enough to deal with the guilt associated with PTSD. It’s a constant internal struggle. But to feel guilt from someone else is unacceptable because they are asking more than you are willing to give by making you feel badly about saying ‘no.’
Feeling guilt from another person can be mentally draining, especially if they’re family or loved ones. Just remember that you are the only (and best) person who can advocate for your own needs and being assertive about the things you are willing to handle, allow, and tolerate in your life is not something you should feel bad or guilty about.
If you are a good person with a heart and a soul, then being assertive can be quite difficult. But if you remember that in order to help others you must first be in functional and optimal mental form, then setting your comfort boundaries will allow you to practice self-care. Think of being assertive are preventative medicine against your PTSD symptoms. Without assertiveness, you cannot have the time and energy to help others. In order to oxygenate the lives of others, you must first oxygenate yours. There is nothing wrong with being assertive and setting comfort boundaries, so don’t let anyone make you feel as if it’s something malicious.
Recognize your comfort boundaries.
Take care of yourself.