Personal growth and development is one of the key areas that most people would like to improve upon in their lives. In addition to being more kind, patient, and compassionate, many people also list increased assertiveness as one of the facets they’d like to develop, but haven’t had the confidence to try yet.
Many people hold themselves back from getting what they want out of relationships or jobs because they’re afraid to be assertive with their preferences. These kinds of ruts can be broken out of; it just takes time and effort to do so. Hopefully these recommendations can help you break out of your rut and find the self-confidence you’ve been yearning for.
1. Define What Being Assertive Means to You
It’s all well and good to search around and find the Wiki definition of what it means to be assertive, but the manner in which you envision yourself acting assertively may be very different from the mean standard. For instance, a site may tell you that in order to be assertive, you should try getting a raise at work and should storm into your boss’s office to demand it.
Meanwhile, in your case, being more assertive might involve speaking up about really wanting to make the lemon drizzle cake for your community bake sale this year.
Context is everything.
2. Determine Why You Don’t Currently Act Assertively
Sit down and take a moment to ask yourself why it is that you don’t feel able to be assertive in different situations.
Are you afraid of conflict?
Do you feel that your preferences and opinions don’t matter?
Or that people will turn against you if you speak your mind and stand your ground?
Have you been taught that your voice doesn’t matter?
Are you so used to acting selflessly that you feel like a selfish asshole for even thinking of trying to make your preferences known?
Women, in particular, have been inundated with the idea that they need to speak meekly and passively in order to avoid being labeled as “bossy”, and that their needs and wants are secondary to making sure that others are happy. It’s really difficult to break free from this kind of conditioning, and can often take years or more to achieve. One major fear that many women have when it comes to reclaiming their assertiveness is that their partner might leave them because they’ve “changed”. If you think this might be holding you back, you might wish to consider whether your relationship is a healthy, positive one to hold onto.
When it comes to the kind of assertiveness you’d like to manifest, it’s important to have a goal in mind. Is your goal to stop someone from being condescending to you? Or to earn a promotion at work? Do you find that you have an emotional vampire of a friend and you’d like to stop them from leeching off you? Or maybe you’d like to try new restaurants other than the ones you and your spouse go to all the time?
Write down all of these, and while you’re at it, rank them in terms of their importance, with 10 being “I really need to sort this shit out” and 1 being “meh, if the status quo is maintained, it won’t destroy me”. You can still work your way down through 1 and get that sorted out too, but it doesn’t need to be your top priority, and can always be addressed at a later point in time.
If you feel that you’ve been taken advantage of at the office, or if you really dislike the manner in which your partner speaks to you in certain situations, write that on the list of things you’d like to address, along with phrases that you think would have the best impact in terms of positive results.
The goal is to make you feel confident and comfortable with your newfound assertiveness, rather than making you feel as though you’re pretending to be an entirely different person. Your assertiveness will be much more authentic if it comes as a natural extension of yourself, so use your words and expressions instead of handy snippets offered up in self-help books.
This is where you’ll keep notes about your attempts at being more assertive, and what the end result was. Write down setbacks as well as successes, and be honest about what it is you’ve learned. If you find that being assertive is going easier than you’d thought, you might end up over-confident to the point where you become aggressively assertive when a neutral stance is more suited to the situation. Don’t allow assertiveness to turn into arrogance or dominance.
It’s just as important to remember when to shut the hell up as it is to know when to stand up for yourself and refuse to be mistreated. If your best friend has just split up with her partner and she wants to have a movie and ice cream binge, that would not be the best time to demand your choice in films and flavors. Let her have this.
Timing plays a huge role in success, and it’s important to dip a toe in the water before diving in, so to speak. Yes, it’s a good idea to let your boss know that it’s about time that you got a raise, but the day after their mother died might not be the best time to do so, ye know?
5. Take Small Steps, but Stay Your Course
You should also be aware of the fact that if you haven’t been terribly assertive in the past, you will come up against resistance when you start taking steps to stand your ground. There may be arguments with family members and friends, tension at work, etc. so you should be prepared for various forms of backlash.
For example, if you’re having a discussion with your partner and they interrupt you, stop them immediately by calmly saying “please don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking”. Chances are they’ll get riled up and argumentative, at which point you can make it clear that you don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking and you would like to be granted the same courtesy. Depending on what kind of a person they are, this might result in tension (or door slamming), but if you’re important to them, they’ll be willing to work things through with you and grow together.
Don’t let these situations dissuade you, though! You might need to sit in the tub and have a good cry now and then when someone who’s used to you being a doormat gets their knickers in a twist over your new found voice. Keep those new boundaries firmly in place and you’ll find that they’ll either adapt to you, or walk away… and if it’s the latter, then they weren’t worth having around in the first place. This is a risk you take any time you make a big life change.
Communication is vital, and it’s a good idea to sit down and talk with those close to you about the fact that you are trying to be more assertive, as well as your reasons for doing so. By asking for their support and encouragement, you may just discover that you have more people on your side than you’d expect, which will only help to bolster your assertiveness and help you reach your goals.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.