NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself

As children, many people are taught that they have to put others before themselves, even when it's to their own detriment.  Growing up with this perspective makes it difficult as an adult to be assertive because to put yourself first feels like you're being a "bad person" (see my articles: Assertiveness: Learning to Say "No").

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

No one wants to feel that they are a mean or hurtful person, but there also needs to be a way for people to take care of their own well-being while also considering others.

When there's a pattern of putting other people's feelings and well-being above your own, you often feel conflicted about what to do when a situation arises where there is a conflict between what you need and what the other person needs.

If you are stuck in this pattern, as a way to avoid feeling the conflict, you might numb yourself emotionally so that you tell yourself that you don't know what you want or need (see my article: Changing Coping Strategies That No Longer Work For You: Avoidance).

For many people that feels preferable than to say "no" to someone else.

This often leads to many unhappy consequences and overall avoidance of possible conflictual situations.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that demonstrates these dynamics:

Gina grew up in a home where her parents taught her that it was "always better to give than to receive."

During the Christmas holidays, Gina's parents encouraged her to give whatever gifts she received to the local children's donation center.  After a while, Gina unconsciously taught herself to stop wanting toys because she knew that she wouldn't be able to keep them.

Her parents also taught her that she should always put other people's needs first before her own.

Later on as an adult, Gina had a hard time saying "no" when she really didn't want to do something. People who knew her knew that she would always say "yes" and they made many demands on her.

As a result, she often felt bombarded by the many requests that she received from others and exhausted by her own internal conflicts about it.

She felt guilty and like a "bad person" for even having internal conflicts about not wanting to agree to her friends and family's demands.  She felt that a good person would gladly do for others without feeling conflicted.

The result was that, even though she tried to avoid feeling like a "bad person" by complying with others' demands, she still felt like a "bad person" for even having negative thoughts about it (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

Gina's internal turmoil developed into medical problems, including frequent headaches and stomach problems.  Being sick was the only time that Gina felt it was alright to turn down other people's requests.

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

At the time, Gina didn't understand the mind-body connection and how her body was telling her that there was a problem with the way she was sacrificing herself for other people (see my article:

When her doctor eliminated any physical reasons or why Gina was having headaches and stomach problems, she recommended that Gina seek help in therapy to understand if there were emotional issue that were contributing to her medical problems (see my article: Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Although the connection between the mind and the body was a new concept for Gina at the time, she listened to her doctor and sought help in therapy.

In therapy, Gina began to make connections between what she was taught as a child and her current problems as an adult.

This was the first time that she was able to say out loud that she was tired of acceding to others' demands all the time, but she felt it was the "right thing" to do.  She was in such anguish about this conflict that she didn't know what to do.

Her therapist helped her to look at her dynamic as if she was someone else.  In other words, would Gina feel this way if her best friend told her about this same problem.

Being able to externalize the problem was helpful to Gina, and she agreed that she would not think her best friend was a "bad person" if she said "no" to someone in order to take care of herself.

Even though Gina was able to see the distortion in her thinking, her childhood upbringing still had a powerful hold on her.

Over time, Gina was able to see that how self destructive this distortion was for her health and overall well-being.  She also saw that she was unconsciously somatizing her problems (getting sick) in order to avoid doing things she really didn't want to do, and this wasn't a good solution to her problems.

Gradually, Gina practiced saying "no" in situations with people who weren't close to her for small issues.  At first, this was very uncomfortable, but Gina knew that she needed to do this for herself.

Gina and her therapist also did trauma work for the unmet needs of her younger self, the child who learned to sacrifice at too young an age.

Gina understood that her parents were well meaning, but their beliefs were harmful to her, and she needed to develop her own beliefs as an adult.

As Gina continued to practice asserting herself, over time, she got more comfortable with it and she no longer felt like a "bad person."

She also felt more alive emotionally and physically and more aware of what she really wanted and didn't want.

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

When she did do things for other people willingly and without undue sacrifice to herself, she did these things with more joy.

Underlying many people's inability to assert themselves is a fear of being a "bad person."

This belief is often internalized at a young age and hard to overcome on your own.

The conflict between not wanting to acceded to someone else's wishes and feeling like a "bad person" is often very difficult to bear and many people unconsciously numb themselves to their own desires as a way to not dealing with the conflict.

Due to the mind-body connection, unresolved emotional problems can develop into medical problems, like headaches, high blood pressure, and other medical issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
Getting to the root of the problem is the first step in overcome a problem with being assertive.

Working on the underlying emotional trauma is usually necessary so that it doesn't keep getting in the way of your making healthy changes.

When you're ready, taking action is the next step to learn how to be assertive in a healthy way.

If you have trouble asserting yourself, rather than continuing to struggle on your own, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to overcome the underlying issues so you can begin to take care of yourself and lead a happier life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.