I’m stuck in a ‘situation-ship’
Does my lack of assertiveness mean I have low self-esteem?
“We do everything together. We spend at least 4 nights a week staying at each other’s places and we even cook together. We have basically been in a relationship anyway for the past 5 months, so why am I so afraid to ask them to post a picture of me on their social media or if I can meet their family?”
The scenario above is reiterated in so many different yet eerily similar ways amongst friends, calls to siblings far away, and yes, even to Psychologists. This is what we call a “situation-ship.” Since the advent of online dating and the pandemic making those without partners maybe a little more inclined to want to find someone, the “situation-ship” has become a more popular dilemma. This is when two people fall into a pattern of what would basically be considered behaving as though they were in a relationship without formally establishing this fact. This leaves some blurred lines of what is acceptable behaviour on the other’s part as each would experience all of the emotions of a partner with less of the entitlement which can leave many feeling lost and confused. So if all it would take to fix the situation is a discussion about where their relationship stands and how they feel about one another, why do so many still find themselves stuck in “situation-ships?”
What does it mean to be assertive?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Being assertive shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of others’ rights and are willing to work on resolving conflicts.”
The link between lacking assertiveness and low self-esteem
People who struggle with low self-esteem are likely to be less assertive and behave more passively. Deep down, they may not feel worthy to express their true needs and actually have them be met. When a person has low self-esteem and behaves more passively, they tend to accept things that they may not enjoy, don’t align with their values or may even be demoralising. This in turn may worsen their self-esteem and an unhealthy cycle begins.
For instance, the person may believe that voicing to the person they are “dating” the desire to have them share a photo of the two of them together on social media as “too needy.” They will therefore rather not mention it to avoid perceived embarrassment that they fear in case the other person does not agree. Possibly seeing the other person post pictures of all the other people they hang out with would make them feel even worse about the fact that they have never “made an appearance” and likely even less likely to ask.
Often the person with the low self-esteem would rather stay in the “situation-ship” than risk having no connection at all, even though the other person’s behaviour is making their self-esteem worse and they are not truly having all their needs met.
What else may have caused me to not be assertive?
- Were you the child who was told to be seen and not heard?
- Did your teacher’s tell you to “just ignore” your bullies?
- Did you try to stand up for yourself as a child about a just cause only to be shut down by an adult?
- Was it easier to just agree at home so the fighting wouldn’t start?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you were given the message that speaking up for yourself will lead to negative outcomes and should therefore be avoided.
It may be time to ask yourself if your “situation-ship” is truly making you happy or if you are just staying in a mediocre situation because it’s “better than nothing.”
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. The key element to remember here is that you are as aware of the other person’s needs and wants but are willing to voice yours honestly because you believe you deserve to have them met.
I enjoy working with clients to help find “their voice” that they may have suppressed for many years and to truly discover what it is that they want.
Author: Lauren Otto, MA Clinical Psychology
Lauren Otto is a Clinical Psychologist who primarily works with children, adolescents and adults. She has experience in many fields including emotion regulation and adjustment difficulties, as well as living with chronic pain. Her warm, non-judgemental yet practical approach to therapy fosters a positive relationship whilst allowing them to achieve their goals. Lauren also has a particular interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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