Is More Than Learning Skills
by Mary DuParri LPC
of us who label ourselves as lacking in assertiveness skills, tend to
misunderstand what being assertive really means.
Each semester, when I teach a class on assertiveness, I am reminded how
many of us confuse assertiveness with the bossy, demanding, sometimes angry
behavior that is actually a hallmark of aggression.
If we think such antagonistic behavior defines assertiveness, it is no
wonder that so many of us prefer to remain silent. Rather than being perceived
as selfish, overbearing or unreasonable, we keep our opinions to ourselves. We
are reluctant to tell people when we have a schedule conflict.
We hesitate to voice our preference for a movie we want to see or a
restaurant we want to visit. We
fail to tell people when they delight us and we fail to tell them when they
have overlooked or offended us. Our relationships, therefore, stay distant or
lukewarm and we feel not only overlooked and offended, but probably resentful
or angry. Although we feel
frustrated and misunderstood, we blame ourselves for not being assertive and
internally berate ourselves for not standing up for our values or wants.
We want to be more assertive, but we fear being selfish bullies.
assertiveness class, before we talk about specific assertive skills, we
discuss what genuine assertiveness looks like.
People are sometimes surprised to learn that it is possible to be both
quiet and assertive. That a soft-spoken “No, thanks” is as assertive and
probably more effective than a screaming rant. They learn that assertive
behavior does not require intimidating stances, strong language or angry
looks. It simply requires
speaking for ourselves and clearly and directly conveying what we feel or
need. No bullying is required. No selfishness. Assertiveness is not a skirmish
where one person has to win and another loses. We don’t have to overcome the
enemy to be assertive; we just have to voice our needs.
however, is more than learning skills. It is also a mindset.
As a skill it involves speaking up for ourselves. It requires clear and
direct communication. It teaches us to set limits and to say “No.”
It gives us the ability to express both positive and negative feelings.
It enhances our relationships as we learn to approach others and
initiate conversation. However,
just learning the skills won’t make us an assertive person.
We have to believe that we are entitled to be assertive.
For that, we have to change our mindset.
To truly be assertive requires that we see ourselves as equal partners
in relationships. We need to
believe that we are as important as other people and honor ourselves in the
same way as we honor them. We
need to recognize that our schedules and our preferences deserve as much
consideration as the next person. I teach my assertiveness students a mantra:
“If somebody has to be disappointed, it doesn’t always have to be me.”
Not because I want them to become selfish and callous, but because
until we can see ourselves as equal and deserving, we are unlikely to
implement assertiveness skills.
final component necessary for changing from non-assertive to assertive
behavior is practice. Even when
we hold the “deserving-and-equal” mindset, and
even when we have studied
the skills, we need to start small to try out our new assertive language.
At first, because we are nervous and not used to speaking up, we may
speak up too quietly and remain unnoticed.
Or, because we need to muster so much courage to speak, we may actually
sound blunt and aggressive instead of reasonable and assertive.
Practice helps. Sometimes
practicing with people we will never see again allows us to try out the words,
fumble with them if we must, and not worry about facing the person over
breakfast in the morning. Practicing
with people we feel safe with helps even more.
They can forgive our uneven attempts, bear with us as we try to express
ourselves and continue to love and support us as we find our voices.
Taking an assertiveness class or consulting a professional can also
help us learn new assertive behaviors. A
counselor can help us not only with the skills of assertiveness, but also with
the self-confidence issues that sometimes keep us from living the life we
DuParri MA LPC
Authentic Living is a free newsletter about fine tuning life and relationships
written by Mary DuParri MA a Licensed Professional and Nationally Certified
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