What if I can’t say no? Assertiveness in the age of the coronavirus?
Life is stressful. We face constant pressure from others in our daily lives, under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. We have work deadlines, people intruding on our personal space, and the expectations we place on ourselves, which added together can make us feel overwhelmed. For many of us, these stressors did not disappear when the corona virus (COVID-19) put the world on pause. Many of us struggle with how to keep facing the pressure of our normal responsibilities while also staying safe and adapting to our current life during a national emergency. However, we should each ask ourselves a very important question: Is it reasonable to expect yourself to meet normal expectations in such an abnormal time?
Most people want to be viewed positively by others. Most of the time this is healthy. It can drive us to be kind and courteous. It pushes us to contribute to society in positive way. However, when this desire is out of balance, we can begin to put the needs of others above our own. Under normal circumstances, this might lead us to take on too much work at our job, which can lead to resentment and burnout. However, in the age of COVID-19 the stakes are much higher. Taking on too much work and neglecting personal wellbeing can not only put ourselves in harms way, but also everyone around us.
How important are deadlines?
Let’s use the example of meeting deadlines on a work project. Most businesses and organizations are doing their best to adapt to the current situation as quickly as possible. This means that there is likely to be even more pressure on the already stressed and tired employees. The heads of organizations put pressure on their subordinates, who in turn, put pressure on their subordinates. In this example, let’s say that one of the subordinates will only be able to meet a given deadline by throwing caution to the wind (against CDC guidelines) and not taking the precautionary step of practicing social distancing. If the subordinate disregards social distancing they can meet the deadline, but they put themselves and those they interact with at risk. If they do practice social distancing, they will take steps to decrease the spread of COVID-19, which will decrease the likelihood of them and their loved ones contracting the disease. However, they will likely fail to meet the deadline.
How can cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) help?
Within the context of CBT, assertiveness can be defined as communication and behavior that takes into account the rights and needs of ourselves and others equally. We often face pressure from our jobs, and society in general, to place the rights and needs of others above our own (passiveness). Consistently behaving and communicating in a passive manner can often lead to anger and resentment, which when directed inward can lead to depression. A common pattern of behavior seen in people who often behave passively, involves people consistently bottling their feelings of anger and resentment until they, to the surprise of those around them, explode with rage over a seemingly small incident. During this act of aggression, the normally passive person is putting their rights and needs above the rights and needs of others.
CBT helps people to examine their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to adapt to situations in more mentally healthy and helpful ways. In future articles, we will discuss how CBT can help the subordinate from our example. We’ll examine myths related to assertiveness and unhelpful thinking styles. We’ll also discuss behaviors that might be helpful in the short-term, but can lead to long-term negative consequences.
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.