Stuck in your head?
When you’re in your head and worried about how others are perceiving you and saying the “wrong” thing, the last thing that you want to do is “assert” yourself. The meanings we as a culture and society have attributed to asserting one’s self is often times negative, especially for women.
I am passionate about helping clients take greater ownership of their voices and take more space in all areas of their lives. However, whenever I suggest assertive communication, I often times hear from clients that they are not wanting to start arguments with others or have others experience them negatively.
Expressing ourselves is negative?
How did expressing one’s self become associated with a negative outcome? It started to get me curious. I think there can be many factors that have contributed to this understanding- culturally, gender-role expectations, familial and childhood experiences, work dynamics and expectations, etc. But also, I noticed that by definition, assert means “to state a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.” This is often the opposite of how we are trying to be perceived...at least the forcefully part. So, it got me to think...maybe the issue is that we need a better understanding of what asserting is and what that would look like.
I see asserting one’s self as an opportunity to share more of you- your emotions, thoughts, behaviors, with others. I see it as taking more space- the space that is there for you. I see it as respecting yourself, as you would respect the needs and opinions of others. Asserting yourself does not mean that you are negatively impacting someone else or taking from their experience. It is actually respecting the needs of others, while ALSO respecting and valuing your own.
Being assertive doesn’t come naturally to me.
I remember when I was in graduate school, I had a professor who eventually became a mentor to me. When I struggled in asserting myself or speaking up in classes, he would often say to me, “You’re robbing others of the experience of getting to know the genius in you.” At that time, I would often think…”Right, the genius in me..I’m okay.” Now when I look back, I realize that he was right. In holding back at times not only did I do myself a disservice, but I did those around me a disservice. I did myself a disservice because I didn’t realize from an early time that asserting yourself doesn’t lead to conflict.. It leads to personal liberation.
It was also a disservice to others because we all have so much to offer others. In our differences, we actually promote connection. It is in our differences that not only can others truly see us, but they may also see themselves within us. It also opens the opportunity for others to learn and experience a different perspective...who doesn’t like that?! (I guess some people don’t… but are those the people you want in your life?). In a healthy relationship, differences and taking more space should be something that is appreciated and respected. Thus, if you find that you are in a relationship or friendship that leads to negative outcomes when you assert yourself, maybe it’s time that you start looking into the health and impact of that relationship.
An easy way to become more assertive.
So now you’re probably thinking...well, what does asserting myself even look like? I suggest using “I Messages” and no, I don’t mean the iPhone imessages. “I Messages” are an effective way to describe how you are feeling...and just to be clear, people cannot argue with your feelings! They also can offer an easy way to share your expectations of how you want others to treat/respond to you in the future.
Quick review of how to create an “I Message:”
1) Identify how you feel and then express it.
a) “I feel…[emotion]”
2) Identify the cause/trigger of the feeling
b) “When…[whatever caused the feeling]”
3) Explain why you feel this way
c) “Because…[whatever your understanding of it is].”
PART II: YES, TIME TO SHARE WHAT YOU WANT
1. Identify how you would prefer they handle the situation in the future.
a) “In the future, I would prefer if you would…[identify the specific behavior]”
Well, hope you find it’s just a tad easier to share more of you and your needs after reading this. You deserve to take space. Enjoy it! ;)
Stay relationally well,