By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
Have you ever had difficulty speaking up for yourself? How you define yourself, positively or negatively, depends a great deal upon the messages you’ve heard from others throughout your life. We internalize the things we’ve heard about ourselves from other people and this becomes the basis of our self-esteem which can be either mostly positive or mostly negative. If we see ourselves in a negative light, we may feel that we are not worthy of speaking up for what we want and this can lead to passive behavior as a lifestyle.
People who experience difficulty with their assertiveness skills have to look deeply within to assess their self-esteem and see what they can do to create a more positive definition of themselves. They can find things about themselves that they like. They might practice using positive self talk such as, “I am an interesting person and have interesting things to say” until this message replaces any old negative messages they may have heard throughout their lives.
Turning a legacy of negativity into a present sense of positive feelings take some work, persistence, and motivation but the rewards are enormous. One day you realize that you really do like yourself, like who you are and have something to say that is of value to other people. This does not imply that you are working toward conceit or a superior, condescending attitude. You are simply working to repair old negative messages that have held you back in the past. You are working on balance.
Being able to assert yourself in life requires positive self-esteem. Once you feel good about yourself, you can then go out into the world with a healthy sense of pride and assertively deal with the many experiences and people who come your way. Communicating with others assertively involves the ability to express your ideas clearly and effectively. It does not involve blaming the other person or putting them down. There is no room for sarcasm when communicating assertively. Assertive speaking often involves the use of “I” statements. That is, you talk about how you feel about something without attacking the other person. For example, you might say, “I feel uncomfortable when you talk about our boss that way,” but you would not say, “You make me feel uncomfortable when you gossip about our boss”. Assertiveness does not aim to put the other person into a defensive stance, but rather aims to open communication between people.
Learning to become assertive is not just an exercise in discovering appropriate responses to uncomfortable social or personal situations. Rather, it mirrors a personal process of self-discovery that is often aided by working with a therapist. The goal is to reach your authentic genuine self.
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