Becoming Assertive April 17, 2009

Being assertive means being self-aware, knowing what you want, connecting to your genuine Self, and then believing in your right to ask for what you want. You are aware of your basic rights as a human being, and you give yourself the same respect and dignity you would give to another person. Being assertive is a way of expressing your sense of self-worth. You are in touch with your genuine Self and are able to communicate that to those around you.

•    A submissive communications style is when a person defers to the wishes of others, while ignoring their own needs and rights. You may stuff your true feelings until you unexpectedly explode in anger. You might feel guilty for expressing what you want. People pleasers are often submissive because they are overly invested in appearing “nice” or the “good guy.” They are afraid if they are honest about what they want, it will anger those around them.

•    An aggressive communications style is on the other end of the spectrum. People in this category communicate in a hostile and demanding manner, getting their way through force and intimidation.

•    Assertive behavior occupies the middle ground between these two extremes. With this communications style, you are able to ask for what you want, or say no, in an honest, direct way. You take responsibility for meeting your own needs without feeling guilty, while respecting the dignity of other people. The first two styles attempt to control the other person directly or indirectly, while the assertive person expresses their genuine Self and no control of the other person is intended. The idea is high involvement with low attachment.

How to Be Assertive

•    Be aware of your own feelings, wants and needs. You can only be assertive when you are clear on your own feelings and directly communicate them to others.

•    Recognize your basic human rights. You have the right (like everyone) to ask for what you want, to say no to impossible demands, to express your feelings, to change your mind, to make mistakes and not be perfect, to expect honesty from yourself and others, to be angry at someone you love, to live in a safe environment, to learn and grow, have your feelings respected by others, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

•    Use assertive body language. Maintain eye contact without staring, keep an open body position (don’t cross arms or legs), face the person directly, don’t back off or move away, speak in a calm, strong voice.

•    Learn to say no. It is important to set boundaries on what you are willing to do for other people. Is what the other person asking of you in conflict with your needs? With people you’re not that close, you can just say firmly “No, thank you.” With someone close, you might want to give an explanation of why you are declining.

Learning to be assertive will help you receive more of what you want. It will take some practice and thought to change this old pattern and it may feel awkward at first. Practice in your journal, practice with a friend or counselor, practice an assertive dialog with yourself. Start using assertive behavior with small, less critical situations and gradually move to more important and challenging areas.
People respond positively when you are honest about your feelings. You live a fuller, richer life when you are connected to and honestly express your genuine Self.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

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