Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Assertiveness is not aggression! There, I was just being assertive. So what exactly is assertiveness, how is it different from aggression and why is it important?
In a nutshell assertiveness is three things: 1) Asking for what we want. 2) Refusing what we don't want. 3) Expressing our thoughts, feelings or beliefs. It's giving our needs priority in a way that's respectful to others but unlike aggression, it's not trampling over the rights of others. I call it a "healthy selfishness."
Being assertive requires self-awareness and knowing what we want (and what we don't want), the belief that we have the right to get our needs met. The same respect we'd give to anyone else. Acting assertively develops self-respect and self-worth.
When we're not assertive we don't get our needs met and get taken advantage of which can lead to anger, low self-esteem, self-criticism for not standing up for ourselves, and depression. Not being assertive also contributes to anxiety and, not surprisingly, highly anxious people worry about not pleasing everyone.
Sometimes the people we're closest to, family members or friends, are the hardest to be assertive with. It's easy to be assertive with the telemarketer who calls in the middle of dinner because we have no investment in a relationship with them and don't care if they like us or not. But with those we're close to we have more to lose by being assertive as they may become angry, resentful, retaliate, possibly causing tension in the relationship. But when we do things we don't want to do by being "people pleasers" it hurts us and our relationships. We can make the mistake of thinking that if we do what everyone else wants they'll like and respect us. But in fact the opposite is true. We may not always like people who are assertive (maybe because they don't take any BS from us) but we respect them. It's not easy at first but practicing assertive behavior actually brings increased respect from others.
So what are some other obstacles to being assertive? 1) Fear of conflict; most of us don't like conflict and want things to go smoothly so we let things go that we shouldn't. 2) Not wanting to be seen as unfriendly, demanding or uncooperative. We want to be nice people and helpful (we are nice people, by the way) so we hesitate to put our own needs first. We may also feel guilty for putting our own priorities first. This can be our own feelings or the other person "guilting" us to get what they want. 4) Sometimes we think we're being assertive when we're actually not. This is especially true refusing something. Rather than giving a clear straightforward "no" our response is waffling and maybe apologetic. Our body language also communicates how firm and clear we are. Facing the other person, maintaining good eye contact and speaking in a calm and firm tone of voice is important. When we don't do this the other person senses we're not firm and may increase pressure or use manipulation to get us to go along with what they want. Anyone who's ever bought a new car knows how persuasive the salesperson is with an answer for every objection we raise.
Lastly, our emotions. Because we're nice considerate people our emotions can get in the way. Rationally we know we're right being assertive but it can still feel uncomfortable. Don't let our emotional brain lead us into a decision that's not in our best interest. No matter how practiced we get being assertive (and we will get better) it will always feel a little bit uncomfortable and that's OK. It's just our humaness.
And when we assert ourselves, whether asking for or refusing something or expressing our beliefs or feelings, we can explain why (or not) but we're under no obligation to defend or justify our position. Otherwise, we can get manipulated into acting against our own best interests.
Remember, assertiveness is not aggression but rather an essential ingredient of personal integrity and self-care. Next time I'll talk about some and effective assertiveness techniques. See you then.
Next Time: ASSERTIVENESS JIUJITSU