There is a wise teacher I know who identified four primary types of communication that we humans navigate between: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, and assertive. Those first three are defaults for many of us (particularly in situations when we feel afraid, vulnerable, or attacked), but I’ve found that fourth one to be a really transformational ticket out of unhealthy behavior, thought, and speech patterns. Being assertive means to me saying what I believe, and coming from a deeply rooted space of love. In fact, when love is at the helm, it is impossible for me to be passive, or aggressive. or some combination of those two.
There’s a piece of assertiveness that’s taken me awhile to settle into: the fact that it doesn’t always come across as sweet, gentle, or easy to take or give. Assertiveness can be “telling it how it is;” refusing to back down from the truth, even when it stings. Assertiveness can lead to heartbreak, to sadness, to confusion. Also — and this is key — when I behave assertively, people don’t always like it. There have been times in my life when I’ve slipped into passive or passive aggressive communication patterns with others that felt safer than being honest, and when I began to speak up and assert myself, it took people aback. They were used to me being a pushover, or always making myself available, or pretending things were okay even when they weren’t. Assertiveness can be tough love, and tough to pull off. But with that disclaimer, I implore you to attempt to play a little game. To catch any moments in your day when you’re behaving or interacting in a way that’s passive, aggressive, or passive aggressive. And see if you can find another way to engage, in that same space: a lovingly assertive way.
- Morning walk into the neighboring fishing village: seeing women sort tiny dried fish on giant iridescent blue tarps on the beach. Being approached by a cluster of monks who shyly asked to take a picture with us!
- Sumptuous morning swim with my mom. We acted out scenes in the water: “dead bug,” floating Ophelia, womb/ rebirth, et al. Then I catapulted myself through somersaults and headstands.
- Reading out loud to my mom from her ridiculous, hilarious, utterly absurd book group book. It was so distinctly American, profane and profoundly out-of-character from our surroundings
- Another amazing swim, this time in the afternoon. At one point, I was greeted by a gaggle of beautiful naked Myanmar children, presumably locals, who were jumping and screaming and laughing and wanted to play in the water with me.
- Great talks over dinner and throughout the evening: about families and upbringing, relationships and fears and joys, where we’ve been and where we’re going (both together and separately). I felt very seen and heard, and very connected with my mom.