“What you allow is what will continue.” — Author Unknown
“There,” said John, pointing to the right. “I think I see it.”
After a brief search, we had found my car. It was nose down in the ditch at about a 30-degree angle. Drifting snow had obscured all but the back window and trunk. It would take some shovelling to even open the driver’s door. I withdrew the gloves from my coat pocket, pulled the toque down low over my ears and wrapped the scarf a little tighter around my neck. John maneuvered the truck onto the shoulder of the road and switched on the four-way flashers.
“You brought a tow-rope, right?”
He nodded and we climbed out of the cab and into the frigid January night.
I had been taken advantage of and felt like a fool. And the sad part was this was not the first time. This particular event happened some 30 years ago and shortly after I’d left home. A couple days prior, a colleague at work had asked to borrow my car. Initially, I told him no but he persisted. He had met a new girl in the city and “needed” to make a good impression. He promised to fill the car with gas and have it back at my apartment no later than Friday morning. I was reluctant but when he started talking about what good friends do for each other, I relented. Later, I would be angry and critical of myself because he wasn’t a friend. So why had I lent him my precious car when I had already made plans for the same evening?
Perhaps you know the feeling when someone makes an unreasonable request and you agree to it not because you want to but because you fear the consequence of standing up and saying no. I had someone say to me once, “I’m sick and tired of being taken advantage of when all I tried to do is be kind.” Was I just trying to be kind or was there more to it?
Often, being “used” comes down to a lack of assertiveness. Lots of people struggle with assertiveness and thus many get taken advantage of. Assertiveness is a skill essential to effective living and healthy self-esteem. It allows us to respect and express our rights and feelings.
If assertiveness is the key to stopping being taken advantage of, then the first step is to define the term. Assertiveness is the act of saying what we need or want, or protecting ourselves from what we do not want, while respecting the needs and rights of others. Assertive behaviour involves identifying the behaviour that concerns us, identifying our feelings about it and stating what we want to happen as a result.
What causes people to avoid being assertive? Often it’s the fear of displeasing others and of not being liked. Fear of conflict often plays a significant role. In reality, the stress associated with not speaking up is often much greater than facing the potential conflict and resolving it in a constructive manner. Acting assertively requires that we be forthright, honest and clearly express our feelings, opinions and needs. And, not surprisingly, it is often the most effective way to resolve conflict or reach a compromise.
When we speak of being taken advantage of, we’re often describing the emotion of resentment. Resentment gets a grip on us when we have not acted on our own behalf. The good news is, with persistence and practise, you can stop being taken advantage of and find your voice.
If you feel that you are being taken advantage of and decide to speak up, the words you choose will make a big difference to the outcome. Experts in assertiveness training suggest we avoid using language that might sound accusing like “you did this” or “you said that.” Instead, they suggest we focus on “I” statements that convey our feelings to the other person.
Other suggestions include stating our point-of-view without being hesitant or apologetic, refusing to be manipulated and respectfully volunteering our opinions even when they’re different from others. Body language plays a role. Experts suggest we face a person squarely with a straight upper body, maintain good eye contact and remain firm but calm.
When I spoke to the colleague the next day about the whereabouts of my car, he admitted to hitting the ditch and said he had planned to tell me when I arrived at work. I told him it had been a cold walk to work and I would have appreciated a phone call. He responded by saying he hadn’t wanted to bother me as it had been past midnight when he finally arrived home.
“I had to walk nearly a mile in the cold before I caught a ride into town,” he explained. “I was pretty much frozen by that point.” I suggested that he might want to call a tow truck. He shrugged and told me he had no money. I wondered how he had planned paying for gas.
I read once, “Don’t ever let someone take advantage of you or treat you with disrespect. Being nice is one thing. Being taken advantage of is another.” I have worked long and hard on this issue and, though it still rears its ugly head, I have become much more adept at saying no.
I called my buddy, John who picked me up after work in his old pickup truck. We found the vehicle about 15 miles out of town. John helped me dig the car out of the snow bank and with a lot of pulling, pushing and tire-spinning, finally managed to get it back onto the road.
“John,” I asked as we waited for my car to warm up. “Am I taking advantage of you?”
He looked at me and smiled. “Who actually showed up to help me move?”
“Never tell me the sky’s the limit when (I know) there are footprints on the moon.”
– Author Unknown
Murray M. Fuhrer – The Self-Esteem Guy
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca