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
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.
Answer unwelcome persuasion
To stop being a victim, choose