Thursday, February 01, 2018

Assertiveness vs. Being Unkind

The headline poses an idea that has been on my mind for some time. Working in the mental health field, there is an ongoing idea that people can address many social issues and realize goals by being more assertive.

Assertiveness, by definition "is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, it is a learnable skill and mode of communication" (Wikipedia, 2017). 

I have witnessed some people take this full definition and apply it to better be able to communicate, interact, and achieve personal goals. Assertiveness gives a person the assurance that they are able to carry out an activity or conversation no matter what the outcome. It is an actual sign of self-assurance and confidence. However, in the definition, it does not include the assurance that the outcome will be favorable to the one who possesses this ability. On more than just a few occasions I have been witness to those who, in the name of assertiveness, assert dominance, speak unkind words, present entitlement as assertiveness, and damage relationships. In other words, being unkind replaced assertiveness. Why might this happen (notice, I say "might")? I would argue that it is a presentation of lack of self-assuredness and confidence. In fact, the behavior would indicate an internal struggle of "If I am not seen as right, do not attain that which I most desire, am not seen as intelligent despite my attempts, then I have no sense of value or self-worth." Thus, assertiveness gives way to forcefulness and aggression. Kindness is forgotten and the behavior becomes self-serving. 

On the other hand, true assertiveness is a demonstration of genuine self-respect and respect for others. One might say, it is a sub-category of being kind. While searching for a good definition of kindness, I found the following from "Kindness is the indispensable virtue from which most of the others flow, the wellspring of our happiness. ... Under its umbrella kindness shelters a variety of other traits - empathy, generosity, unselfishness, tolerance, acceptance, compassion - that are highly valued and easily recognizable" (Livingston, 2009). This description encompasses many desirable traits and characteristics that, I would argue, most of us wish to embody. In fact, to further the description of assertiveness, this definition of kindness could be added in place of the words "without being aggressive," because the kindness traits nullify aggression. 

Like all desirable traits and behaviors, they take practice. For some it is easier than others to be kind and kindly assertive. However, as Person-Centered Counseling and Humanism posits, all people are inherently good. So, it must be possible. 

Until next time... 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where Have I Been???? SELF-CARE!

It's been, undoubtedly a long time since I posted anything. I am certain that my three readers have been biting their nails while checking their blog feeds and emails just waiting for my next comments. Well, here it is...

Over the past 16 months I have had the opportunity to see many clients, attend great conferences (i.e. The Evolution of Psychotherapy 2017 convention), teach multiple classes, provide supervision to 24 different students, road over 1500 miles on a mountain bike, went on several trips (some successful, some not), and much more. In other words, I got even more busy. But, I digress...

Today's brief message is about the results of professional counselor burnout and secondary trauma, and how to work through it. A counselor who works with trauma is at risk for developing pathological symptoms by virtue of exposure to clients with trauma and difficult life scenarios. This can happen due to the severity of the situations and stories shared in sessions, or even because of similarities of the clients' stories and experiences to the counselor's own life. The signs for secondary trauma are not unlike post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and more. Ultimately, a professional counselor can begin to feel tired at the thought of seeing clients. Sessions may be interrupted by internal counselor struggle (countertransference). Ultimately, it can lead to compassion fatigue and/or burnout. Cynicism tends to be the final stage of burnout, which ultimately affects the client's ability to remain objective and to demonstrate empathy or compassion to their clients or even personal relations.

I know what you three readers are asking--how can I avoid this? The answer is very simple. Self-care. This means putting yourself personally and professionally at the forefront. Take time off periodically rather than waiting until you're exhausted. Focus on personal spirituality by maintaining a relationship with God or the Divine. Be physically active in any way. Check your attitude to see if it is adjusting towards being negative towards others. If it is, engage in your own personal introspection and practice for change. Or, see a counselor for yourself. Try to see people from a person-centered perspective--that all people are inherently good and trying their best; that they are worthy of affection and attention (yourself included); and be congruent and genuine with yourself and others.

Hopefully, you three will find some of this helpful. If not, file it away for a time when things feel rough.

Until next time...