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  • Michael Philp

Sometimes growth hurts

I've been talking to a lot of my clients recently about self-sacrificing and submissive behaviours. In short, what that means is doing things for others, even at your own expense or inconvenience. To further clarify what I mean - self-sacrificing or submissive behaviours happen on a consistent basis. You're the person who stays behind at work to finish off the project or pick up extra jobs to help. You're the one who all your friends call to dump their emotional baggage on. You're the one who drops their plans at the last minute to help a friend. You're the one who tries to please everyone else. You're the one who feels guilty if you put yourself first for once.

While this character trait is good - it certainly is a good thing to be nice to others, helpful and caring - it is often driven by an unconscious avoidance of either feelings of guilt or fear of rejection and abandonment. What tends to happen, over time, is that people who engage in these subjugating behaviours end up feeling resentful. They are resentful that they always have to do the work. Or that they are always willing to lend an ear to a friend, but it is not reciprocated (or they don't ask for support). Or they feel they have no choice but to do what is asked of them.

Being assertive is easy. Dealing with the emotions is hard

Assertiveness as a skill is fairly easy to teach. It essentially boils down to asking for what you want and respecting other people's rights. The skill is not what stops people with subjugation tendencies to not be assertive. It's the anxiety of standing up for yourself, for saying no and maintaining boundaries that is hard. It's the risk that people will be disappointed in you, or be angry with you, or no longer want to be your friend. And the reality is that in some cases this might actually be true.

If you have always been submissive or self-sacrificing in your behaviours, then there is a good chance that some of your relationships are uneven in the power balance. Your friend has the balance of power. And in some instances, this power imbalance may be what attracted the two of you to be friends in the first place. So when you start to address the issues around why you put your needs second all the time, and start setting boundaries, then there is a chance these friendships will end. The other person doesn't want to give up the power imbalance. That can be incredibly scary. Personal growth can be hard and painful at times. On the other hand, some friends have been waiting for you to be more assertive, and welcome a more balanced relationship and these friendships thrive.

Personal growth is hard. It's uncomfortable and it can be risky. That's often why we stay where we are. However, personal growth can be worth the hardwork. The rewards - less resentment, more meaningful and balanced relationships - are worth it.

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