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Assertive ..The Right to Be

This issue:The Imortance of Assertiveness

“Excuse me, my soup is cold. I would like it heated up thanks.” For many, saying this statement to a server in a calm, respectful manner is difficult. Why so?

Many people were raised in a home in which their thoughts and emotions were not valued. Negative feedback (bring ignored or yelled at) was given and thus, we learned that our feelings and desires were not worthy of voicing. We then became mostly passive, compliant or nice in order to survive.

Expressing what you feel and asking for what you want is called assertiveness. Being assertive equalizes relationships, decreases feelings of being taken advantage of, and lessens any resentment in not saying or doing what we truly wanted to do or say. It not only increases our ability to communicate, it promotes respect for yourself and from others.  Although, others may not appreciate the change as their needs are not being met as much.

Believing you have a right to voice feelings and ideas the same as everyone else does is key to being assertive. However, many people feel guilty in stating what they want. Stating your ideas does not mean you are selfish, rude or unreasonable. Although what you say may not please or may differ from others, realize that sometimes what you want for yourself is not what others want for you or for them.

Assertively saying ‘no’ can also be challenging for people. It is helpful to remember that when someone asks us to do something, we can answer, ‘yes’ or ‘no,” and perhaps a third, “I’ll let you know tomorrow.” As we become more confident in knowing and asking for what we want, we become comfortable in others saying ‘no’ to us. Similarly, differing opinions will no longer be felt as personal criticism because we understand that other people are merely stating opinions and wants, just as we can.

As much as assertiveness appears easy for some, decades of being passive makes attempting change awkward. Begin to develop awareness of body sensations, feelings and intuition. Are we feeling resentful, manipulated, or frustrated? Listen for inner beliefs which counter your assertiveness such as, “You don’t have the right to say no,” or “How dare you say that.” Reflect upon the source of these thoughts and any accompanying feelings such as guilt, fear or shame.

Become comfortable using phrases such as, “I would like …,” “I prefer …,” or “No thanks.” Practice in situations that are emotionally safe, say with a close friend. If stating your wants and feelings is uncomfortable for others, it may be an opportunity for them to self-reflect or for an honest discussion about what they were expecting from you.

As the pendulum shifts away from passiveness, we experience a more fulfilling and soulful way of being. As the author Shatki Gawain stated, “Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are.”

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.