ME/CFS and Developing Assertiveness

When we have so little energy it’s really important that we learn how to use it carefully. One particularly difficult challenge is when others place demands on our energy. We need to learn how to say ‘no’ when others are demanding something from us that will push us into that ‘too much’ zone.
I’ve recently realised that it’s not enough to just try to educate people around you so that they won’t expect too much. Often when people are asking something from you they’ll be thinking about their needs not yours. No matter how many times I try to explain to my boss that working long shifts or working too many hours in a week will make me ill he will still push me to do more than I want to when people are on holiday. What I’ve realised is that he accepts a straight forward ‘no’ from others but he doesn’t hear ‘it will make me ill’ as a ‘no’. So now I’ve learned I just have to say no. Trying to explain doesn’t get me anywhere but a ‘no’ does.
When your family is expecting too much from you it is likely that they are primarily thinking of what they need from you. My boss is thinking only of the needs of the business. If your friends pressurise you into staying out when you’ve had enough, it’s because they are caught up in having a good time and they don’t want it to change.
Assertiveness is about taking responsibility for your needs. When others are expecting too much from you because they are thinking of their needs, all you have to do is express your need and be willing to take responsibility for meeting it.
‘No, I’m sorry, I need to look after myself today so that I’ll be well enough tomorrow.’
‘No, I’m sorry, I’m not willing to risk getting worse’.
‘No, I’m sorry, I need to go home and rest now’.
Some may enter into a battle of ‘but this is what I need’. You might want to show that you recognise the others need as important but repeat that today you are unwilling to risk your health by putting them first. Today you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Remind your nearest and dearest that by looking after yourself today you are making sure you’ll have something to give them tomorrow and next week etc.
‘I recognise that what you need is important and I will do what I can when I can, but today I need to look after my health.’
Being assertive respects the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others but puts yours on an equal footing.
Again, acceptance is really important here. Without accepting the nature of this illness and your energy limits, it can be really tempting to let others pull you in unhelpful directions. Once you accept that you need to be in control of your energy expenditure, it becomes a matter of effective communication. I’ve found that a simple expression of your needs is likely to be far more effective, in most situations, than an attempt at a full explanation. If the other person really wants to understand where you are coming from they will ask!

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