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Learning How to Assert Yourself

assertiveness training For many people, a lack of assertiveness can have a negative effect on many aspects of life, including personal and professional relationships. A lack of assertiveness has been found to greatly contribute to anxiety, anger and a lack of self-acceptance. Several major studies have confirmed that a lack of assertiveness directly correlates to anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety. Most anxious individuals equate being assertive with being unhelpful, selfish, argumentative and antagonistic and therefore many anxious individuals fail to recognize the value of their own feelings, wants and opinions over those of others. In other words, when a person doesn’t feel confident and good about herself, it’s often difficult for to clearly ask for what she needs, which in turn makes her anxious.

When a person communicates in a passive way instead of an assertive way, she is not actually saying what she thinks or what she feels. She typically will agree with others and focus on fulfilling others needs and wants, while disregarding what she needs or wants. This can result in a lack of direction and purpose and a feeling of not really being in control of one’s own life. When a person constantly agrees with others and never expresses herself honestly, she typically begins to feel anxious, tense and resentful.

You may lack assertiveness if you have a difficult time:

  • Saying “no” to others without feeling guilty.
  • Asking for what you need.
  • Expressing your opinion.
  • Asking for help.
  • Expressing anger.
  • Being criticized or giving criticism.
  • Stating your rights.
  • Setting your own priorities.

So what exactly is assertiveness? Assertiveness is a style of communication in which one expresses opinions, beliefs, thoughts and feelings in an honest way that is still respectful to others. It is not aggressive, yet it is also not passive. It is a way of calmly and openly expressing your opinions and thoughts and includes listening to others deeply and actively before replying. Assertiveness incorporates good eye contact, open body language and expressive gestures. And although we assertively ask for what we want, we do not do so at the cost of the other individual. If necessary or appropriate, we strive for compromise so it’s a win-win for both individuals.

There are many different CBT techniques that can help you to become more assertive. For example, a way to become more assertive with a particularly challenging and demanding individual in your life is the use of the “broken record” technique.

It goes something like this:

  1. First clearly, specifically say what you do want or do not want to have happen, using “I” statements. For instance, “I won’t be able to pick up your daughter for you today.”
  2. Allow the other person to respond and if they do not accept what you say, stick to your guns and rephrase your statement. “I understand you have a lot going on today, but I won’t be able to pick her up.”
  3. The other person may now up the ante by manipulating or guilt-tripping you. Again, assertively say, “That’s not really relevant to the main issue, which is that I cannot pick up your daughter for you.”
  4. Repeat, as often as you need to without letting the interruptions of the other person confuse you and without making excuses for why you can’t do what he asks you to do. In most cases, the other individual will give in and agree.

With a bit of practice and training, most people can learn how to become more assertive. But as with any kind of cognitive behavioral (CBT) technique, learning how to become more assertive takes determination, practice and persistence. Think about your daily yoga practice – at first those poses are difficult and almost impossible to do but it’s the consistent practice of doing these poses that strengthen your body and calm your mind until the poses become easier and easier. The same goes for learning new behaviors like becoming more assertive.

Although you will likely feel anxious and uncomfortable as you learn new ways of behaving and communicating, with continued practice you will begin to feel less anxious, more in control and more satisfied with your life. At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our counselors are here to help. If you are facing challenges with assertiveness skills, anxiety, or relationship issues, we’d be happy to support you and provide you with a specialized counseling approach. 

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