There are numerous reasons why many of us may lack assertiveness in some (or many) areas of our lives. The society we live in doesn’t exactly encourage assertive actions and behaviors. We are often conditioned, beginning at a young age, to behave like the flock of sheep, to live a predictable life, and to avoid questioning, wondering, or even dreaming too much. Those of us who do attempt to step out of the conveyor belt-life and attempt to live a life we want and choose will face criticism (or worse consequences), often coming from those who stay on the predictable path. When you are confident, self-assured, decided, and assertive, you will remind others they too can choose their own life. This will either inspire people or scare them to death.
Many of us must teach ourselves and trainourselves to be more assertive because we must combat the conditioning we’ve undergone has taught us being complacent, compliant, and obedient are positive traits. The good thing is assertiveness can be learned, developed, and strengthened. It is nota you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t trait.
The Assertiveness-Anxiety Link
If you struggle with anxiety, this is a good sign you may be in need of some assertiveness training1. Did you know assertiveness and anxiety cannot co-exist? Assertive people are minimally, and often rarely, anxious. So if anxiety is an issue in your life, rather than focus on decreasing the anxiety, put your efforts towards increasingyour assertiveness.
Where to Start?
Many people who want to achieve greater assertiveness in their social relationships, professional life, education, or even towards their personal goals are often at a loss as to knowing where they should start. How do you increase assertiveness or become assertive after a lifetime of lacking in this important ability?
Increasing assertiveness is especially challenging if you have spent much of your life making room for others and putting yourself second1. Many people believe this is a desirable trait, to put others first, to “sacrifice,” but oftentimes these people also feel taken advantage of and feel as if their needs, goals, and wishes are neglected. They feel this way because their needs, goals, and wishes are severely and chronically neglected. “People pleaser’s” (also known as doormats, among other terms) believe these traits are positive or they have been conditioned to believe these are sought after characteristics. Being flexible and cooperative are positive traits, but giving in or taking a back seat to satisfy or pacify others is not. This is the first thing we must understand in the process of increasing assertiveness. You can be flexible and cooperative without sacrificing your self-assurance, confidence, resoluteness, and self-love. Much of gaining assertiveness involves throwing out a faulty image of yourself and erroneous beliefs of what a “good” person is and replacing these beliefs with inner strength and confidence.
What Do You Want?
The next critical step in increasing assertiveness is asking yourself, “What do I want?” People who lack assertiveness struggle to ask themselves this question and execute the response, which is why they have difficulty taking action in their lives. Do not confuse “What do I want?” with selfishness or self-centeredness. It is notegocentric to go after what you want in life and live for yourself. In fact, this type of self-love will make you better able to love and give to others. The saying “you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself first” is true. So ask yourself, daily, repeatedly if you must, “What do I want?” Live your life with this intention, to reach for and run after what you want. This is assertiveness in action.
When you begin to turn the page to a more assertive life, those around you may attempt to reject this transformation and even encourage you to revert back to your old ways; to the safety of the predictable and conforming life. You may also have moments of self-doubt, where you question whether you are doing the right thing, making the correct decisions, and going down the right path. This is where your assertiveness is tested. The process of taking action and living a life you create and choose will be surrounded by challenge and moments of difficulty. Remember your life is yours to live and yours to decide on its course.
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT). (2017). ABCT fact sheets assertiveness training. Retrieved from http://www.abct.org/Information/?m=mInformation&fa=fs_ASSERTIVENESS