Speaking Up: Protect Yourself From Persuaders

One of the most important principles in dealing with stress and anxiety is that being acted upon contributes to anxiety. Conversely, it helps eliminate anxiety when you are the actor, the causer. Applied to relationships, it can sometimes make us anxious when people are persuading us and trying to influence us while we remain passive. But when we are active in making things go the way we want, we tend to feel less anxiety.

Of course there are many modifications and clarifications you'd have to put in there to make that a truly accurate statement. For example, trying to control everything would probably cause a lot of extra anxiety. But for the most part, it is more relaxing to be the causer than the victim, and that is often a choice you have.

Jesse is talking to Mary about religion. Mary knows a lot about Darwinism, and Jesse is a born-again Christian. Jesse is talking about God and the Bible, and Mary is doing what she normally does: she draws him out, allowing him to express himself, without giving any indication that she might disagree. After years of avoiding conflict, she has learned to see things from other peoples' points of view. She has learned to understand how they could see things that way. She is tolerant and nonjudgmental. It is in some ways an admirable trait.

But in this case, it is causing her some stress. Jesse is pretty aggressive, and he is actively trying to convert her. Unfortunately for Jesse, Mary just realized that morning that her passivity is sometimes bad for her anxiety level. She realized she needs to speak up more and be a little more persuasive in some circumstances, and she realizes this is one of those circumstances.

After the third time Jesse asked Mary to go to church with him next Sunday, and after Mary had already tried politely getting out of it, she finally decided to stop being the victim and start doing some persuading herself.

To stop being the victim, choose a goal. If you don't have something you're after, you become a supportive actor in someone else's play. Choose a goal. Let me be sure you remember this principle. If you want to stop being a victim, choose a goal and get after it. Mary decided her goal for this conversation was to try to convert Jesse to Darwinism. "I'm not going to go to church with you, Jesse," she said, "I don't believe in the Bible and I'm not interested. I think the Bible is an interesting and maybe even valuable collection of stories, but I think it's kind of silly to say it is the verbatim transcription of the Creator of the universe."

Jesse looked shocked. He didn't say anything. So Mary continued, "Look, I don't even know if there is a Creator. I'm more scientific than you, Jesse. I'm not saying you're wrong, because, who knows, really? But I'm saying that if I don't know, then I don't see what's wrong with just admitting I don't know. Why would I want to try to believe something I think is silly?"

Jesse saw his opportunity and jumped on it. "Faith is how you find God, Mary. That's how you do it. By believing." Jesse is very aggressive in his communication. He has no problem with pushing his point of view on other people. Mary is right to challenge him. People like that are a kind of intellectual bully, no matter what they believe. They spread their points of view to far more people than their points of view usually deserve.

Mary didn't stop there. Now being released from her prison of avoiding confrontations, she was actually finding this more invigorating and relaxing than politely listening to what she considers to be rubbish. "I don't buy it," she said. "It sounds like bunk to me, like hucksterism. What's the difference between what you're saying and a con-man saying to me if I only believe in him enough, I can make a lot of money?"

The conversation goes on in this vein for awhile, and Mary feels relaxed afterwards, like she just finished a good tennis game.

It's not a good policy to be argumentative. But it's not a good policy to be too passive either. How do you decide when to do which? One deciding factor should be how you feel. Is it making you feel upset to keep quiet? Do you have something you feel really ought to be said? If something is causing you to feel anxious or upset by not saying it, that might be a time to speak up. It sometimes changes your state from negative feelings to positive feelings.

So this is a possible method for you to use when either you have interactions with someone who is trying to persuade you, or when someone is doing something you have something to say about, and your passivity makes you upset or anxious. That's a good time to speak up and maybe even try to convert the other person to your way of thinking. Do it as kindly as you wish. No need to be mean about it. But speaking up puts you in the causing position and takes you out of the victim position. That's a good move.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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