Tuesday, November 24, 2009



There are many scenarios that could have encouraged someone to be non-assertive. Some of us were punished when we spoke out so we learned to be passive and quiet. Other people were given messages about expressing themselves, such as "children are to be seen and not heard" or "don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about." As a result they concluded that others did not want to hear what they had to say or how they felt. Still others were taught that it was conceited to put themselves first, so they learned to be people-pleasers.

On the other end of the continuum, people were taught that the only way to get their needs met or to get attention was to compete and be "better" than the other person. They learned how to be aggressive and to win.

It is important to identify what our blocks are to being assertive, so that in addition to learning practical skills on how to communicate assertively, we can also work at clearing away any obstacles to initiating and maintaining these new behaviors.

Take a moment to reflect. How did you personally learn to be non-assertive? What were some of your life experiences which emphasized your passivity, aggression or other non-assertive behavior?

Do any of these beliefs about communicating assertively sound familiar?
• It's selfish
• Others will think I am arrogant and conceited
• I will hurt the other person's feelings
• The other person will get angry
• I need to appear stronger than them
• Other's needs come first
• It's rude
• I will get in trouble

What are three negative beliefs you personally have about being assertive and that keep you non-assertive?

One very common belief that is an obstacle to behaving assertively is that others will think that we are being selfish. Taking care of our own needs and expressing ourselves does not mean that we are being selfish. For many people the word "selfish" has a very negative connotation. I like to say we are being "self-full". Our needs and other people's needs do not have to be mutually exclusive. Just because we make choices for ourselves does not mean that we will always choose to ignore others and not do anything for them. But when we do consider others, we will do it from a place of choice rather than a place of "have to" or fear.

Also, when we make choices for others we may be taking away the opportunity for them to make choices for themselves. So instead of thinking of being assertive as being selfish, think of it as respecting our rights and the rights of others to make personal choices for ourselves.

Others may be surprised and comment negatively on our assertiveness, but that does not mean we acted inappropriately. Sometimes people don't like other people who are assertive. They may think an assertive person is "full of themselves" and doesn't care about other people. This can often be because the recipient of the assertive behavior is not getting what they want. They can't manipulate the other person. The assertive person is standing up to them and that doesn't work for them.

How someone responds to our assertiveness is his or her choice. We are not responsible for someone else's feelings, actions or decisions.

If they do not like your behavior it is up to them to be assertive with us as well and let us know. Or they need to find some other way to get their needs met. Assertiveness allows flexibility and space for negotiation.

Self-esteem and assertiveness are directly related. If we don't feel good about ourselves and believe in ourselves, we are more likely to look externally for answers and motivation. If we don't trust ourselves, we are less likely to be assertive and express our feelings, needs and wants. We are more likely to try to manipulate and control the situation so that the outcome is predictable and something we can cope with. We are less likely to take risks where we don't know the outcome, because we won't trust that we can handle it.


Authored by Barbara Small She has a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology and is also trained as a Life Coach.

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