“Looking forward to being attacked” sounds crazy, I know, especially since most people hate confrontations. In fact, many people avoid confrontation at all costs. But being attacked (at least verbally and emotionally) is something that happens to most of us on a regular basis. Yet few of us ever develop the confrontational skills needed to defend ourselves in these situations. This leaves us easy prey for bosses, co-workers, family, friends, and mates who want to control us. Our fear of confrontation lets others take control and hurt us. When this happens, we either expose our weakness, or hold in our pain and anger until we explode, often causing damage to the wrong people. Not only does our self-esteem get damaged, but the actual problem never gets resolved.
Years ago I picked up a book titled Looking Forward to Being Attacked. It was a self-defense book, but the title intriqued me. What if we changed our attitude from fear of being attacked to looking forward to standing up for ourselves? Over the years, I’ve worked on this attitude myself, as well as teaching it to my clients. To gain this type of confidence, however, you have to practice – just as you would with any sport or any special activity such as singing or dancing. Yet, confrontation is not something most people want to practice.
It’s surprising how often very confident-appearing people let themselves get intimidated just because they’re afraid to stand up for themselves. Take Nancy for instance, an attractive woman in her mid-forties who appears very strong. Her co-workers and family would say that she does stand up for herself because she often explodes on a dime. But she is actually short-tempered because she usually doesn’t stand up for herself. She says, “People aren’t respectful to me and don’t seem to like me. I try to ignore it and can’t seem to say what’s on my mind to them. Then it builds up and I’m mean to them. Then again they don’t like me. It’s a vicious cycle.”
My 35-year-old client Dan has a similar problem. His boss constantly rides him. He feels so intimidated that he is miserable at work every day, constantly complaining to anyone who will listen as he searches for a different job. Then when he gets home, he has a tendency to take it out on his wife and kids. Afterwards he feels guilty which further damages his self-esteem.
And my client Marie, who is young but has worked at the same company for several years, also avoids confrontation. Actually, she avoids interactions with people altogether (unless she’s known them for years), but fools herself into thinking it’s because she doesn’t like most people. But that’s just her defense talking. She covers her pain with a cold, bitchy attitude toward co-workers and the men she meets. In her last review at work, her boss told her that she doesn’t play nice with others, and that her behavior needs to change. Her attitude affects her personal life too as she admits that she stayed with her last boyfriend way too long because she has difficulty meeting new people.
All three clients spend most of their time covering their insecurities with a façade of fake strength. It’s fake because they feel rejected which erodes their self-confidence on a regular basis. But nothing ever changes because they continue to avoid much-needed confrontations. They confuse “strength” with protecting themselves. True strength is being able to stand up for yourself by handling emotional and verbal attacks as they occur.
Dan recently had an encounter with his boss and finally told him, “If you think I’m doing such a bad job, why don’t you just fire me and get it over with!” His boss was shocked that Dan even felt that way. He backed down, reassuring Dan that he needs him, and has stopped criticizing him. Dan can’t believe it – he assumed that standing up to his boss would get him fired, but it didn’t. Dan had taken his boss’s criticism personally (as most of us do), but now realizes that the problem is just in the way his boss manages. Dan has developed a new attitude he now calls “keeping my swagger.”
Nancy is also learning that instead of continuing to be nice to try and win over her co-workers who are being disrespectful, she needs to tell them that she doesn’t like the way they are behaving toward her and to stop it. She has to learn not to fear them, realizing that they have many insecurities themselves that make them behave that way. She just needs to train them how to treat her.
And Marie says that her bad attitude toward her co-workers comes from how much they irritate her when they ask stupid questions and seem lazy, so she just gives them the cold shoulder, hoping they’ll get the hint and leave her alone. People accuse her of acting like she’s better than them, but she actually realizes deep inside that she’s socially inept. She’s been using her defensive ways so long that she doesn’t know what else to say or do. She’s agreed to start trying to tell people how she feels and what she wants. With her co-workers she’ll say, “I have to be honest, it irritates me when you ask me that question when I know you already know how to do that. I want to see you try, and then I’ll help you if I see that you need it.” It’s a very simple change, but an important one. And her co-workers may still not like her reaction, but at least the issue can get resolved and Marie can start connecting with people again.
Real confidence comes from knowing that you can handle whatever situations come your way. And avoiding something is not the same as “handling” it. Avoiding will keep others’ bad behavior going and will not help you get what you want in the long run. Standing up for yourself -- by letting people know how you feel about what just happened and what you want changed -- will help you have the strength to “look forward to being attacked.”
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