How practicing assertiveness works hand in hand with Dialectical Behaviural Therapy Skills
When you learn DBT, one of the most important skills you will learn is something called DEARMAN. This is a version of an important assertiveness skill because it helps you maintain boundaries. People with BPD often have great difficulty with setting and maintaining boundaries with others in their life. Part of the reason this happens is that we grow up as people-pleasers because of our never-ending fear of abandonment. When you are always afraid that the ones you love will leave you, you learn how to do almost anything to keep that from happening. Over time, this becomes an ingrained habit and takes a tremendous toll on our self of self and self-esteem.
When you first start to begin to practice assertiveness, even in a formal DEARMAN format, it feels very strange, awkward even disingenuous. This is partly because we are often conditioned to not ask for what we want or need and many of us don’t even know what we want or need, let alone how to ask for it.
One of the foundations of assertiveness is that you are not responsible for the other person’s feelings. This means that if you ask for something (hand-holding, a back rub or even something as simple as a return phone call), and the other person responds with anger, it does not mean that your request is uncalled for. It is important to remember that the other person has the power to say yes or no to your request but if they don’t want to grant it, for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean that you should not have asked.
Those of us with BPD often have a lot of difficulty asking for even the simplest things because we fear rejection on an almost pathological basis. So learning how to practice assertiveness is the first step to true emotional freedom. Learning how to be assertive is a wonderful tool because it gives you an authentic voice, something that most of us lack. Learning how to be assertive is a primary tool for starting to practice self-love and self-care because it reinforces that you matter, that you are important enough to look after yourself physically and emotionally. It lets you say to yourself and the world around you that you are important enough to voice your opinions and ask for what you want and need.
Learning how to be truly assertive is a lesson in patience: with yourself and those in your world. This is because you first have to dig deep enough to be able to discover what you need on an emotional level. I think it is a good idea to start practicing assertiveness with those with whom you don’t have an emotional connection (investment). That’s because it takes practice to learn assertiveness and get skilled with it. You will bomb out, probably more times than you think. It’s a good idea to find a friend you can practice with. To do that, write down some scenarios (a script, if you prefer) and give it to your friend and then go through it. Practice being the asker AND the giver. This is a great way to hone your new skill. The next script(s) you should develop should have to do with more difficult
That said, though, as we learn in DBT, it is equally important to remember at all times that just because you ask for something in an assertive way doesn’t mean that the person will grant your desire. And when that happens, it is time to implement the second most important DBT skill, Radical Acceptance.
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