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Example Self-Help Plans: 4

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Example 4: Become More Assertive

Alicia has been single for almost 10 years. She was married in her early twenties, but her husband was emotionally and physically abusive. She was also abused as a child by her father. Since her divorce, Alicia has participated in women’s abuse groups, seen a therapist, and has done a lot of thinking about her life in an effort to learn from her experience.

For the last three months, she has been dating a man. She finds she is working very hard to keep him pleased. She never disagrees with him and always leaves decisions about where they’ll go and what they’ll do on dates up to him. She has recognized her tendency to try to be a perfect companion to men she dates, in the past, and now realizes that she's doing it again. Lately, she hears herself denying that she has any preferences herself for what she'd like them to do, and knows that this is not true. She's repressing her true feelings for some reason, she realizes, probably related to her past relationship experience.

She realizes she needs to get in better touch with what she truly wants so that she can tell her boyfriend what those things are. She's nervous about actually stating her opinions to him, but thinks that if she can manage to do it and he doesn't reject her or become abusive that she'll become more comfortable around him. She is not realistically afraid that he’ll hit or belittle her for having her own thoughts and preferences, but continues to wince at the memory of past boyfriends and her ex-husband accusing her of being "overly opinionated" and "selfish".

Alicia forms a plan to become more comfortable speaking her mind and being with her boyfriend. This is a big project for her, so she has broken it down into two sequential steps to make it more manageable.

Goal 1 - Reduce my anxiety in communicating my preferences

· Method 1 - Tell Dave I’m working on being more comfortable with telling him my preferences and thoughts.
Method 2 - Practice a modified systematic desensitization exercise Practice relaxation exercises until I'm relaxed and then think of Dave giving me disapproving looks. Stay relaxed until I no longer feel terribly threated by the thought of Dave's disapproval.

· Measurement - I will feel less and less anxious about telling Dave what I really think, even when I disagree with him.

· Timeline - Starting immediately. This may take several months to accomplish.


Goal 2 - Tell Dave what I want to do on dates.

· Method 1 - Read up on Assertiveness Training and assertive communication. Practice making assertive (not aggressive, not passive) statements to Dave every evening before the mirror.

· Method 2 - Communicate my preferences

· Step 1 - Spend two weeks developing a list of the things I like to do and would like to do. Don't communicate about this list; just make sure the the things it contains are things I'd like to do.

· Step 2 - After two weeks have gone by, choose a few things I would like to do on dates with Dave and mention these to him as possibilities whenever we begin to make plans. Don't force the issue, just mention my preferences. Do this for another two weeks.

· Step 3 - When a month has gone by, chose something I'd like us to do and tell Dave that I'd like to make plans to to that thing.

· Measurement - I will be increasingly comfortable telling Dave what I want to do on dates.

· Timeline - Start Method 1 immediately. Start Method 2 when I'm feeling less anxious (shoot for a month from now).


Goal 3 - Reduce my tendency to "repress" my awareness of my preferences

· Method 1 - Self-monitor my tendency to repress my preferences when with Dave. Write down my observations in a journal so that it gets easier and easier to know when it is happening.

· Method 2 - When I'm feeling more comfortable and less anxious (see Goal 1), then start stating a difference of opinion (when one exists) at least once per month. I don't have to insist that we do it my way, but I have to make it known that it's not my preference

· Measurement - I will be conscious of not repressing my preferences anymore.

· Timeline - Start Method 1 immediately. Start Method 2 when I'm feeling less anxious (shoot for a month from now).