The objective of this article is to help those who have experienced some kind of physical or sexual abuse to use some concrete tools for speaking up for themselves.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Many people who have experienced some form of child sexual or physical abuse have learned that it is dangerous to speak up for what they want. They have experienced a lack of protection from the adult world so that they enter such a world feeling unworthy of asking for what they want. Internally they can feel frustrated and deprived and certainly angry. They don’t set good limits with others and, though they may experience anger when disappointed, they are not skilled at letting others know about it. This article is designed to provide tools to address this problem.
It is common, if you have had your feelings walked on by others-especially “bigger people” which is the nature of child physical or sexual abuse, to feel unworthy or a lack of safety if you complain or object to anything.
Letting others know when you are offended is an art as well as a responsibility. To not do so breeds resentment and breaks relationships over time.
Complain to the person who is offending you and not to anyone else. Do so when you are alone with that person and no one else is present.
Don;t compare that person’s behavior to that of anyone else.
Make your objection as soon as you can–don’t let it fester or build over time.
Don’t be repetitive. Make your point and move on. Don’t expect a confession in blood from the person that you feel has offended you.
When objecting to something, accompany your objection with a request for ACTION on the part of the other person. It isn’t enough to talk abut hurt feelings. You need to explain what you would like the other person to do about it. The request needs to be related to something that the other person can change.
Your comments can only be constructive if they pertain to behavior. You can ask someone not to yell at you but you can’t ask that they not be angry–that is a feeling—and feelings belong to each of us. Generally, if we talk about what bothers us and change behavior, feelings will follow.
It is useful to keep objections to one at a time and to make them in person.
Don’t apologize for your objection. It detracts from what you said and renews your own questions about whether you had the right to object.
Don’t use sarcasm or contempt. It blocks the other person from hearing you. In fact, the more calm you can sound (and you may need to practice) the better your message will be heard. That is because people generally fear anger and when they hear the anger they miss the rest of the message.
Don’t ask others “why” they are doing something to which you object. Just ask them to stop–though you may ask what they were trying to accomplish because you and they may come up with a better way to accomplish it.
Don’t YOU name the motivation of the other person. It is useful if they can explain it to you.
Remember, and this is common when people have been abused, the fact that someone is stepping on your feelings does not mean that it was intentional or designed to bring you hurt. Therefore, don’t confuse intention and hurt.
Avoid words like “always” and “never”. Don’t exaggerate the situation for fear of losing your credibility.
Make it a habit to thank others for listening to you and also make it a practice to say nice things to others so that if you must object to something, people will know you as someone who also notices good things.
Remember, you are now an adult with the power to let others know when you are pleased or displeased. You can say just about anything to others if you say it politely and kindly.The world is not full of abusers though it may feel like that until you learn some new skills.