I am sure this has happened to you before. Something happened, you felt uncomfortable, but said nothing. Some time later, you thought, “I should have said this” or “I should have told them what I thought”.
The expression “should have” indicates disappointment. Using it does not support self-esteem and makes you feel weak but we all have it some way or another. “Should have” is telling yourself you regret not having handled a situation differently or allowing someone to bully you. If you use this expression often, you probably need to take an assertiveness pill. I am sure you have heard about assertiveness, but what is it really?
Definition of Assertiveness
Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts, ideas, feelings, beliefs and needs freely, clearly and honestly, without violating others’ rights, making them feel guilty or being aggressive.
Unassertive Communication Positions
One problem most people have is the “disease to please”, which makes them feel so concerned about others’ feelings they violate their own rights. Most of the time, it comes from fear of rejection, which most people want to avoid.
The underlying communication position is “Others are OK, but I am not, and if I say what I think, I will be rejected”. It comes form low self-esteem, because the submissive person needs the approval of others to feel secure.
On the other side, we have people who feel upset they cannot express themselves properly and use aggressive words and behavior in their communication.
The underlying communication position is “I am OK, but others are not, and I need to make them do the right thing”. It also comes from low self-esteem, because the aggressor needs others to agree with his or her position in order to feel secure.
Assertiveness fits in-between these two positions. The assertive person calmly states their opinion and listens to others without judging them or taking on any of their emotions.
The underlying communication position is “I am OK, and others are OK, and I am free to express myself, as is everybody else”. It comes from high self-esteem and from being self-sufficient emotionally.
The advantages of being assertive
There are many advantages for being assertive:
- Assertive people have better time management skills
- Assertive people have high self-esteem
- Assertive people have better communication skills
- Assertive people can negotiate better
- Assertive people have better leadership and management abilities
- Assertive people manage their stress better
- Assertive people reach their goals faster
- Assertive people succeed more (because they are not that afraid of rejection)
- Assertive people are healthier
I heard about assertiveness long before I knew what it meant, at a time when I did not express myself much. The fear of rejection was so huge that I was willing to suffer a lot for it. Just today, I talked about a problem I had on my vocal cord. Since I was really young (age 5-6) I had a huge polyp on my vocal cord. When I spoke, I had to take a deep breath to get enough air for 2 or 3 words. People around me said it was because I did not speak properly, Someone said it was because I talked too much. Then, at home, they said it was because I shouted too much.
Nevertheless, it was so hard to speak that I never spoke in class. When the teacher asked me to read my homework, I preferred to say I had not done my homework than to read it aloud. The fear of rejection was so strong that being considered lazy was a better option for me. Whenever I was “sick and tired” of that attitude towards me, I became aggressive, sometimes very aggressive.
In life, many situations require us to be assertive. Sometimes I wonder if confidence leads to assertiveness or if it is the other way around. It is like the chicken and the egg.
Children and Assertiveness
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), assertiveness is not a genetic trait and many people raise children with the “disease to please” from a very early age. We reward them whenever they do what we want them to do and thus we teach them that their worth depends on others (see also How school promotes low self-esteem).
If you want to raise kids with high self-esteem and confidence, remember to teach them assertiveness and that, as usual, the best way to teach kids is to be a good role model. As I have said many times before, the ancient rule of modeling is valid here too. Assertive parents raise assertive kids.
So when do you need to be assertive? I usually say that whenever you feel unhappy because of a communication conflict with someone, you need to review your assertiveness. At any given time, you should feel free to express yourself. You should not be bullied and you should not be the bully.
One reason people choose not to express their feelings, thoughts, ideas or beliefs, is that they are afraid of confrontation. In their mind, they see a scary picture of losing the other person’s respect or of the other person reacting negatively. Remember that by keeping quiet you are putting yourself last.
Confrontation is not pleasant and avoidance is damaging in the short and long run. When you do say what you want, you pass the massage that your thoughts and feelings are valid and you start building your confidence and self-awareness basing it on an equal level.
The “you” conflict
Another reason people feel they cannot express themselves properly is that they believe the other person has a power over them. Such a belief produces sentences like “you make me feel bad”, “you upset me”, “don’t make me angry” and “you give me a headache”, when in fact, no one can give you any of these feelings without you choosing to accept it.
Using “I” at the beginning of the sentence when expressing yourself is a good way to help you be assertive. When you say, “I feel upset when you do other things while I’m talking to you”, you are not blaming anyone. You are taking ownership over your feelings. But when you say, “You make me feel upset when you do other things while I’m talking to you”, you are blaming someone else for your feelings. By blaming, you are giving the other person power over you.
Learn to use “the magic ‘I'” when you are not happy about a communication challenge you have and notice how your self-esteem changes.
Stressful conflicts and no time to think
Some people are very stressed about confronting someone else. Usually, when we are stressed, it is harder for us to stay focused and present ourselves properly. When we are stressed, we tend to say things in a more aggressive way (which only invites more aggression) and without thinking about them clearly.
Take a deep breath when you feel you are loosing control. With every deep breath, oxygen gets to your brain and can help you get clarity and ease the nervousness.
Come back next week to read the next chapter, “I want to be assertive!”, or subscribe via RSS or by email.
Happy day (remember to breathe deeply),
This post is part of the series Self Esteem Mini-Course:
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (1): Introduction to Identity and Self Esteem
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (2): How School Promotes Low Self Esteem
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (3): Beliefs and Where They Come From
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (4): Social Identity
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (5): Service Your Self-Esteem
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (6): DIY Self-Esteem Checklist
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (7): Doubt
- Self Esteem Mini Course (8): Assertiveness Cures the “Disease to Please”
- Self Esteem Mini Course (9): How to be assertive!
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (10): Beliefs of Assertive People
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (11): Ronit Baras’ Success Experience Theory
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (12): Ms Self Esteem has an Identity Crisis
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (13): Conflict Resolution
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (14): Watch Your language or Lose Your Kids’ Trust
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (15): War between Two Minds
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (16): What if
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (17): What do I Think?
- Self Esteem Mini-Course (18): What?
- Self Esteem Mini Course (19): Damaging Kids’ Self Esteem
- Self Esteem Mini Course (20): Boosting Kids’ Self Esteem