The simple tool that helped me stand up for myself

A realisation of assertiveness from something we do every single minute

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Have you ever had that moment where someone says something really wrong, something so against your values and ethics, and you’re stuck there shaking unable to articulate what you need to in the moment? I’ve had this, or a version of this, happen many times. But there’s one time I always come back to and remind myself of, simply because it reminds me constantly of the wisdom of my senses.

I was once in a meeting with a team I was relatively new to working with. While we’d gotten along generally well so far, I had reservations about the volatility of the boss. He’d called this meeting to discuss the work I’d been doing, with the five or so other team members present. While he was talking, I paid attention as usual, however I started to notice something odd. There was the part of me listening, wondering what he was getting at, curious but also concerned this was just another meeting for the sake of a meeting. There was also another part of me that checked in. I was suddenly aware of this deep, slow, diaphragmatic breathing that was taking over my body as if I was doing it on purpose. Suddenly, I was having this internal dialogue as well.

Hm. Why do I suddenly feel like I’m breathing like I’m in a yoga class? Why is my body doing this so consciously?

All within a span of 20 seconds.

Then, out of nowhere, the boss dropped a big, fat, ethical bomb. Right on me. And it clashed big time with my own ethics. I remember staring at him levelly after he’d delivered this, agreeing that something wasn’t working there. I also remember the slight shaking in my hands, knowing I couldn’t leave the room without being very clear that I disagreed with his method entirely. In other similar situations, I’ve had trouble getting those words out.

“I disagree. It’s actually about this, and if you argue the point, I’ve got receipts.”

This time, though, that’s pretty much exactly what I said. Word-for-word, followed by my suggestion that I forward him the emails that support me. He gave some, half-excuse and left the room (the entire building actually). As I started putting together the things I needed to in that response, I reflected back on the moments leading up to that point.

The deeper, slower, more conscious diaphragmatic breaths that, while I’d practiced them on the mat during yoga countless times for years prior and taught others to do the same, still surprised me when they came in without effort. It was as if by some kind of divine instinct, my body sensed what my brain was still figuring out, and knew something was amiss. My body’s protective mechanism suddenly supported me, instead of flaring up a false fight-or-flight reaction. This new way of protection allowed me to use my voice and assert myself in a situation that felt highly stressful, volatile and attacking towards me.

Now, it’s the number one thing I tell people when they feel overwhelmed. We don’t just practice breathing when we already feel stressed. We practice it when it feels easy, so that way it becomes easier when things feel hard.

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

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