I had a great week. Each day that I go to work, even on the roughest days, I find myself so thankful for making this move back to recreation therapy. I am getting exposed to a different diagnosis every day, finding new ways to help people and slowly breaking down some of my own barriers when it comes to socializing. I love it; even when I am broken down, exhausted and can hardly make it up the stairs to my house…I still love it.
What I have learned this week is that working with individuals with mental illness will force you to learn how to assert yourself as well as set boundaries. If you don’t, they will try to take advantage. It’s not that they are terrible people and are looking to walk all over you; it’s how they have learned to cope and get what they want. Manipulation, especially emotional manipulation, does allow a person to get their needs met.
When I first started, my approach was to give them what they needed, whenever they needed. I figured being kind and understanding without having to discipline and correct behaviors would allow me to build rapport, respect and of course popularity. Boy, was I wrong. This approach blew up in my face of course, and I ended a few groups feeling pretty run down. I totally got walked on and taken advantage of. I found my self struggling with assertiveness and boundary setting…again.
Boundaries and assertiveness. Ugh, these two keep coming back to play in every issue I struggle with, no matter how much I try to ignore them or trick myself into thinking I’ve conquered them. Every time I think I’ve found a way to work around not using these two things, I find myself in situations where they were needed like two weeks ago. It’s frustrating to struggle with the same thing constantly and stupid to not deal with it. I am supposed to model healthy behaviors for my clients; how can I be a role model when I continue to skirt the issue of being assertive and setting boundaries. Scary isn’t it?
I know the reason that I fear being assertive and setting boundaries is because I do not want to come across as agressive and inflexible. I know there is a big difference between assertive and agressive because I grew up in a household where the two forms of confrontation were either aggressive or passive. There was no assertive in my house. You didn’t have heart to hearts when there was conflict; you had shouting matches. You threw apples (long story). Or you had the dreaded silent treatment, which I found myself hating more than the yelling. I remember family functions where everyone sat around the table pissed but no one said anything. It sucked. No one wins in those situations and someone always gets hurt.
Side note and rant:
Using the silent treatment is LAME. Really LAME. Honestly, I can’t think of anything I hate more. I’ve seen it quite a bit this week among clients, friends, and family. It seems to be more hurtful than yelling. So… STOP IT. GROW UP. USE YOUR WORDS. As friends, family and coworkers if we care for one another, we owe it to each other to talk it out. I know I am guilty of it, and I am sorry. I am really, really sorry. It helps nothing and leaves others feeling like crap. It’s emotional blackmail and super immature. So, everyone who uses this method… knock it off. I vow from this moment on to stop using the silent treatment. It’s really stupid. If I slip up and you catch me doing this, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, call me on my crap. I promise to do the same if I catch you as well.
Well, for some reason today I decided to try my hand at setting boundaries and being assertive. I have no idea why today I decided to try it or why I had no fear in trying it. I just did it…and it worked.
I set up each group to be structured, asked that my group members be respectful to others, to myself and set boundaries with certain group members when they stepped out of line. It all worked. They all listened. Whenever anyone was disrespectful it was rare that I had to remind anyone of the rules because they kept each other accountable. When I did have to address someone who was being rude, negative or not following the rules, it wasn’t horrible. They listened to me, changed their behavior and the group ran great. In fact, today I was actually able to have some really therapeutic groups. It was awesome!!! Really awesome!
I had a blast with my clients and found that with boundaries set in place, they opened up more. I got to know them better and they got to know each other better. People left my groups saying they felt better or thanking me for the experience. I know that it wasn’t completely due to boundary setting or being assertive because I had some fun things planned. I felt that things were less chaotic. It was a really good feeling.
I know that it will take me a while to get used to being assertive and not being afraid to do so. I’ve been passive for so long I don’t expect to change everything over night. I will probably always get butterflies in my stomach when I have to assert myself, but eventually it will get easier. My goal is to be able to do this with friends and family where frankly, this skill is needed the most. I figure if I can practice this everyday with my clients, I should be able to do this successfully with family and friends.
I just have to take it one step at a time and eventually I will master it. All it takes is one step. I made that step today, and it was pretty awesome.