Sunday, 22 July 2012

Empowerment through assertiveness

Years ago, three months after leaving a Mental Health hospital for what I hope is the last time, I found myself working for a council. I shan't name the council for their ways may have changed - for the better by now. Most of my working time was spent in the tearoom chatting but I got bored with that so I signed up for a course and told my employer I needed every Wednesday off to travel to London to attend. I was doing menial shift work so I couldn't see how it could be a problem, indeed I thought I was doing them a favour for paying for training for myself thereby making myself more useful to them at my expense and saving them money. They were not pleased but went along with it.

Meanwhile the work itself continued in the same way... chatting in the tearoom. Stimulated by my course I set about finding more things to do round the building until one day I had run out of ideas and spent the entire shift in the tearoom chatting with my colleagues. I'd had enough, so the following day I phoned up and said I wouldn't be in. I said I wasn't ill, and they were not to count my day of working from home as holiday either, but that I would be in the following day and expected to be given loads to do.

The manager I phoned understandably went into a rage, but not with me. When I returned to work my own line manager and the rest of the team didn't like me much and from that point forward I was blamed for every moan and grumble from our department until I left 6 months later. I went on to work in London, much to everyone's surprise because they thought having a mental health history there was no way I could possibly progress and indeed shouldn't. I worked hard and eventually became a manager myself.

Lessons learnt
Since that time I have worked for other councils and all have been hard working and diligent with regard to ensuring that the British tax payer gets their money's worth from each and every worker. I have also come across many other places where a lot of time is lost in idle chatter though too. To me lethargy is a breeding ground for misery and depression. When people are not inactive, negative thoughts, moans, grumbles and criticism take hold until all the whole of life, despite it's wealth of positive opportunities, becomes something to be cynical and sceptical about. Paranoia can set in and ultimately depression does.

This doesn't mean you have to or should work every minute of every day. It merely means that some people need to avoid too much stimulus to be well, while others like myself need lots, but to be well, we each need something to be of interest to us. We each need to actively seek and invest in things we find rewarding and pleasurable and so long as those pleasures and interests harm no one else then there's a chance we can all be happy whatever we choose to do with our lives. Indeed, among some of the most inspiring people I have met have been factory workers who chat all day while working, save their pennies up and then spend it on their kids and amazing holidays.

I do NOT advocate doing the same thing as I did if you are unhappy at work which may surprise you. Imagine if everyone told their employer they were not available for their work because they'd signed up to training course, or because they were bored - the result would be chaos. I consider myself lucky to have got away with it and I am sure I did so because my employer was fearful of the repercussions that would have arisen had they not been seen to be supportive of someone with a mental health history. I was lucky that the manager I spoke to understood mental health issues as his wife was a sufferer too.

It could be argued that I was empowering myself by being assertive of my needs and in some respects it's true, but... assertiveness should never be aggressive and my manner at the time without a doubt was forceful in that I was non-negotiable - therefore I was being aggressively assertive. A few counselling sessions later I discovered why.

Aggression is not assertiveness
In common with many who have been bullied, (I was at school among other places) learning to stand up for oneself does not come easy. It is a long and hard battle to find the confidence and self-belief to simply find one's own thoughts, let alone one's own voice. Once found I fell into the trap of becoming too self-centred, too selfish and defiant of anyone who stood in my way. My stance was that I was never going to allow anyone to bully me again.

What I was not doing was listening to or considering anyone else. Had I done so I might have opted for a different way of communicating my needs i.e. a less confrontational way and still achieved the same result but with the added benefit of making friends, being respected and supported by my colleagues and managers.

People often mistake aggression for assertiveness but the two are entirely different. I now regard anyone who describes themselves as strident, feisty, sassy or determined with a considerable amount of caution as often they behave this way with little or no regard for what other people's needs (not wants) are.

Needs are always more important than wants. They are the basic foundation stones to our well being, the essentials of life. They include (harking back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - see previous blogpost) warmth, shelter, food and companionship; they include acknowledgement for who we are, what we think, say, do and feel. When we are not in receipt of such we feel hurt and often rejected and negated. The solution is simple... walk away from such people and find others willing and happy to value you.

Conflict of needs
I was recently told that I was selfish by someone who felt that I had the view that my thoughts and feelings were more important than theirs. They are - to me. But only to me. I am the centre of my universe but not theirs. They wanted to be acknowledged more and to have more say and that's fine. However, they seemed to think I was responsible for stopping them when I am not, they are. They have missed entirely that I enjoy their company and find their conversation so stimulating that I want to respond to virtually every utterance they make. I was accused to talking too much and told to shut-up. Not heard from them since so now we are both feeling hurt.

It's taken me over 40 years to find my own voice and to learn how to use it so I'm not about to give that up. With luck they will learn to do the same, I hope not aggressively but assertively which always means bearing in mind other people's needs and what we know of someone's personal history. We can never know everything about another person without being them, but we can strive to try to avoid what we know to be things that upset others until we and they are ready to talk about them and address those issues head on. We can but try and I believe that is better for all than not doing so.

We cannot resolve anything without communication. We cannot overcome difficulties without confronting them and learning what, how or why things went wrong. And we cannot cure ourselves without investing in the support of others be they family, friends, colleagues or professional help. We each need to believe in ourselves so much to let nothing divert us from our goal of well being. But, we can only address hurts when the time is right for us to do so. I hope the time will be right soon for my dear friend of over 10 years as I would like to see an end to his suffering and for him to embrace and enjoy life to the full as indeed I would wish for all.

Empowerment is not competitive
I often come across competitive people. I believe it is one of the sicknesses of world to engage in one-up-manship to quite such an extreme degree. That said it is perfectly normal and healthy to want to be better or the best at something for it gives us an added sense of self worth. From scoring well at test to winning at sport or being successful at work to merit a bonus or promotion - it helps us feel of value to achieve.

All well and good but... it isn't good when competitiveness leads to negating other people's potential. To empower others is to encourage others to reach that potential, not to keep that person down at heel disabling them to achieve their own ambitions and goals in life. Empowerment is all about equipping people to reach their goals, not spoon-feed them by doing things for them, but providing them with the knowledge, skills and tools to do these things for themselves. I have no desire to become a business or world leader, but respect and admire those whose talents lend themselves to such so long as they are also advocates of empowering others to do what they have an aptitude for.

The fear surrounding empowering others seems to stem from a phobia of others ending up being more talented or more successful which is not helpful to your ego and self esteem if you want to be the best at something. Realistically though no two people do anything in the same way, or in the same style so while some may favour another's efforts others will still favour yours. Even creative people get competitive, scathing, sneering and critical to the point of character assassination though my impression is not as much as others. Sports of course is designed to be competitive and is a good outlet to release tension, but no one is on top form all the time so the trick is to be gracious in defeat. The Olympics is upon us here in the UK and I sincerely hope all who win are those who will also help others to succeed thereafter. Surely there is no greater reward in life than to empower another to become happy so long as your own needs and happiness are not sacrificed in the process. People pleasing is not the way to go (covered in a previous blogpost on here).

Examples of bad practice
I'll finish with one final example from years ago of aggression and sadly it is a worrying one. While under CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) care I was asked as a 'service user' if I would like to go on a training course so that I could represent service users on interval panels for professionals in mental health care. I said yes.

On the course a mental health professional loudly and repeatedly 'asserted' his view that service users should not be on such interval panels to judge their skills. Throughout the whole course he kept popping out to check his phone as he was expecting to hear the results of a recent interview which would have been a promotion for him. His stance was very much that anyone who has been mentally ill is not capable of being sentient enough to be able to judge if a person is suitable to deal with anyone who is vulnerable or ill. My experience of working with the mentally ill is that they are never devoid of all powers of reasoning.

I can only hope that the other mental health professionals on that course did what they said they would and reported his appalling attitude to his line manager. I rather hope he didn't get the job. I rather hope he got sacked or that he got copious amounts of counselling to correct his attitude. After all, mental illness does not discriminate and there are many medical professionals who suffer from it as well and business leaders and even some world leaders... as the records of history so record. Fortunately in the UK at least such instances among the mental health professionals seem to be on the decrease... one day I hope there will be none to record.

My final example of non-empowerment comes from some Welfare to Work services who take the stance that if you have been a client with them you can never be considered to be an Employment Adviser. That's like saying you cannot enter the medial profession if you have ever had to see a doctor, or you cannot become a teacher if you have ever been a student. As I posted in my last article... it's not really surprising that mental illness is so rife when such is the attitude of those in power. There are times when I feel the real lunatics are the ones running a global asylum.

Best not to get too angry about it or aggressive. Better by far to assert your views with a degree of empathy for their being so ill as to not even notice the flaws in their arguments and above all... help them see sense by quoting their own nonsense back at them. For you see, some of them don't even listen to themselves. Then I recommend going off and treating yourself to some company you enjoy doing something of mutual interest. That's my coping strategy and it seems to be working quite well... time for a little more practice though as it's still a work in progress.

If you want others to be interested in you, be interested in yourself and them. Always, always, always strive to be kind to all, if you want others to be kind to you.  


  1. To say I am a tad disappointed with the world at the moment would be like saying the oceans of the earth are a little be wet.

    Yet again I find myself seething with anger and just not wanting to play by it's unfair, greedy and prejudicial rules.

    Interestingly NASA landed on Mars today but still the knee-jerk reactions to every challenge and crisis persist here on Earth. So the question is if we were to start to populate Mars who should go there? The power mongering greed monsters that historically have consistently ruined life here on Earth or the billions who have suffered from their antics since time began?

    We may have the powers of a God, but what we have yet to master are His ethics - or in other words humanity. The list of examples of illogical mayhem seems just seems endless to me right now - way too many to even begin to cite one by one. I, myself, in a so called developed country of the world am struggling to have or find the means to function even in as far as finding medical assistance because of recent changes and cuts to services. I know I am depressed once more, I know too I am struggling to avoid it deepening and total burn out once more.

    Even the NHS is floundering. Untrained personnel are more useful in a mental health crisis now as trained people are told they are not allowed to pass on callers in desperate need to mental health services due to the number of 'time wasters'. If people make such calls then even so called 'time wasters' I would argue have mental health issues.

    The result is more people will turn to the mental health charities who have likewise been stung my recent cuts. More people are in need of help because of the recession and the resultant stress levels it has caused.

    If someone can point me in the direction of any in authority with the power to sort this mess out, I'd like a word or two. This is a level of madness I have never before witnessed, it's on a global scale and it's terrifying.

    I don't happen to believe it's a conspiracy but frankly if we had set out to screw things up this badly from the outset I doubt we humans could have succeeded half so well.

    Can we really not learn to communicate and live together in harmony to sort this mess out once and for all? Do we really have no will or interest to put our heads together to even try by putting aside our differences for even a moment?

    As for me I am in shutdown mode to lick my moods once more. Why would anyone at the top want to listen to a nobody on the frontline anyway? Far easier for them to ignore such warnings as usual. And people wonder why mental health figures are so high. It strikes me that those at the top and the ones with the most urgent need of psychologists if only to prevent them causing more suffering.

    And no, I am not in favour of violent revolution quite simply because two wrongs don't make anything right. Seems we collectively haven't learned that either. What a waste of opportunity, what a waste of every positive potential we've already had when things continue to go round in these power loops. The difference is the power is on a scale now that risks the future of the whole planet and everyone on it. But what would I know I only live on it and therefore evidently can't notice a thing.

    Please world, learn. Learn as never before. Learn wisdom, learn logic, learn compassion and for once don't just leave it to the handful of others to sort, don't be apathetic do your own bit to haul us out of this downward spiral into chaos. If we all did just a little we could all benefit. Time for someone else to take over from me for a bit as I have already done more than most and at the very least am due a recharge of my energies least I too contribute to screwing things up further.

  2. It seems that you have done a great research here! I love green tea and I believe it helps me improve myself! Thank you for this excellent post!

  3. Thank you, but it seems I have fallen foul of my own words again. Just like my Mum before me who patched up bomb victims in Northern Ireland, I've been trying to fix the world before I have fixed myself. Not that I can fix the world - I'm not Ghandi or the messiah - much as I would like to. However, when I've recharged I expect I will add my voice by way of my tiny contributions toward a better world.

    Blogging articles is too much for me, but posting comments on Time to Change shouldn't be.

    Am looking for a guest writer to write on the theme of reciprocal relationships. Credit will be given to them for their thoughts and article but, it must be constructive, balanced and fair or I won't published it. Just post in the comment box as nothing gets posted without my reading it first on here. It's how I keep the sneering nasty folk out who think anyone who has been mentally ill ought to be shot. Not that they have any problems of course!!!

  4. Wasn't it great to see Channel 4's "World's Maddest Job Interview". Rather telling that the three the employers preferred and therefore top choice all had severe mental health problems. Ha... that should learn yer, that should! LOL! ;-)

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  6. Thank Jagdish, I will post again but not until my new meds have kicked in. Getting them has been a battle as I now no longer live in a country that supports the ethic of prevention being cheaper, less time consuming and less distressing than cure.

    The trigger to my upset and distress is the DWP for I am without funds of any kind courtesy of being worse off for working part-time.

    I am not alone in that though, from employers who do not pay at for casual workers to those who do not even bother to tell a candidate when, where or who they are supposed to be interviewed by I can only conclude that the UK has reached new levels of insanity and dysfunction than I have ever known and it's never been that great.

    Government schemes to help the community seem to yet again at the command of those who charge extortionate fees for doing sod all and half of the schemes are only available for 50% of the nation in the first place. Go figure the logic, because I can't. It begs the question of what are we paying our taxes for? I certainly didn't vote for this.

    It occurs to me that if those at the top had successful counselling, those of us subjected to their whims would not be in need of it at all.

    I have never wanted to get political on this site, but unless and until such things are properly remedied the likelihood is that I and others will be forever a costly burden to this country. I along with millions of others would and could be well, if I had the means to function by. Without it, I fear we will continue down the same road as always despite the best efforts of things like Time to Change campaign.

    Awareness is one thing. Doing something to change things is quite another and the longer, harder battle.

  7. For your information, I'm afraid I will not publish any comments on here that are not directly related to mental health issues or in response to articles on here. Thanks to those highlighting their own work but I not going to get into plugging written works which are 'off-subject'. I wish you well though with your own writing, it is in many ways rewarding so keep at it and you will soon develop a following of your own with likeminded people - everyone has a voice and all merit being heard in the appropriate place. Thanks.


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