I have become more assertive again since getting on the right meds for my anxiety (starting last October I think). I wasn't expecting this but it really highlights how much my reaction to danger is to become meek and obedient. I had mourned the loss of my assertiveness without ever being able to put that into words. I just felt like I had become a coward, when being scared had never stopped me before. It's not that I consciously made different choices (except that I couldn't get myself to initiate social stuff) but that things I would have done literally stopped occurring to me as possibilities.
[recent examples of assertiveness]
I first noticed this a few weeks ago when I met up with a stranger from OKC. First, when I made a mistake and showed up at the wrong place, I accepted their offer to come to me and didn't worry further about it. I didn't compulsively offer things that I didn't have the energy to do. Then when I reached my limit of the social I could manage for the day, I asked for the check, then paid, said goodbye and left despite the fact that they seemed disappointed. I didn't even apologize or offer a long explanation, didn't feel guilty or try to manage their feelings; I just did what felt right.
Another example is week before last, when Topaz decided to take an impromptu vacation trip last week and wanted me to come along for at least part of the time. I said no because trips like that take a lot of work for me, mentally, and I need time to prepare before and recover after, and I have been stressed out for 2 solid months and need down time. I don't find trips relaxing in general and it would have drained me more than it nourished me -- BUT I could have done it. I know my boss would have let me go even though it was last minute, and I have the vacation days saved up. Even though I could have shelved my needs and gone, I didn't.
[one or two years ago I would have reacted very differently]
To be fair, in both cases they were very respectful and literally zero pressure, but for a long time even if the other person was perfect I would feel a need to sacrifice my needs for their wants. With Topaz I would hold back telling them my desires so that I could just accommodate their desires without considering mine. Two years ago and maybe even a year ago, I would have felt too guilty to say no, because it wouldn't actually damage me to do it and for a really long time I couldn't draw a boundary unless it was literally for survival. I couldn't assert my needs and would just hope that the other person took my mild expressions of discomfort as a firm no. I don't think that is part of my personality at all but purely a reaction to abuses I endured and the constant pressure from society in general to be other than I am.
But this time, not only did I say no, I hardly felt any discomfort doing so. I feel like I have reclaimed a very important part of myself. This also impacts my romantic/sexual self in that I am more confident in asking for what I want, and I don't get overwhelmed with fear and self-doubt when faced with rejection. More importantly, being rejected doesn't carry over and color the next chance, and this is true both for individual moments and for people in general.
I feel less likely to fall for anyone who doesn't treat me as the incredible person that I am. I look back a year ago and see myself trying to convince Evelyn that I was worth their time, and I feel sad for past-me that I was so lost that I could feel like it was okay for me to be in a relationship that made me feel like I had no magic and no appeal. I'm not going to do that again. If someone doesn't make it very clear that they are really fucking into me, and tell me why, I'm not spending time on them in the hopes that eventually they will acknowledge my worth. And my true, assertive self is quite confident in saying that "I'm not worthy of you" does NOT acknowledge someone else's worth at ALL. It just passive aggressively pushes them to validate yours. I won't allow people to say that shit to me any more.
[family and work people]
I think a big part of the reason I have been able to reclaim my assertiveness is that about a year ago, Topaz realized that trying to get me to act a certain way around their family was keeping me from being able to connect with their family, and they stopped trying to do that and told me to be myself. I've been slowly reclaiming myself around their family and that has been healing for my relationship with myself.
My coworkers have also been affirming me as my unique self since I have been working there, to a steadily increasing degree. Last July I came out to them as non-binary and they responded kindly for the most part (some just didn't really react). Since then they have been pretty good about using gender-neutral pronouns and being more inclusive in their language (i.e. not saying "ladies and gentlemen"). I feel respected and to some degree even understood.
I'm having less anxiety about talking to strangers. This is huge, since this is always the thing that is hardest for me. I think I am starting to feel like my thoughts and feelings are valid in general, and people can and will want them. I don't know how many years it's been since that was true. I think going through my social justice awakening essentially alone and watching people lose interest in anything about me was really damaging to my social coping skills. And then shortly after that, trying to connect with a group of queers and trans people who just had no interest in knowing me, for some reason I still don't understand. Before that it honestly never even occurred to me that people wouldn't want to connect with me if I wanted to connect with them.
I've been realizing that my ability to not notice what people think of me is a superpower. I had this memory of my dad at my birthday party when I was little - he dropped a popsicle on the floor and picked it up, then told my little 6-year-old friends that they've probably never seen anyone do what he was about to do, and ate it. Looking back I can see that he said that to stave off self-consciousness. I wouldn't have thought about how someone else would react to me doing something like that. I have licked my plate in public, or wiped up sauce with a finger and licked it, without even thinking about how people would see that. I will adjust my underwear in public. I do all manners of odd things in front of people because I really just don't think about it -- and when I do think about it, I don't care (unless my brain chemicals are off).
It is genuinely and significantly damaging for me to be around people who get embarrassed by me. This breaks my superpower and not just in the moment. The more it happens the more it breaks me, because my truest self is always unselfconscious and direct, and when I put on a mask of respectability, I wither. I temporarily lose the ability to even realize my own emotions or know what I want, and it takes time to heal every time I do it.
When I betray my true self by pretending to be a more acceptable version of myself, I lose connection with myself. I must remember this is a grave sacrifice never to be taken lightly, and never to be done often.