Why do some of us struggle with expressing our needs openly with others and what does being assertive really mean?
Assertiveness is an interpersonal skill in which you demonstrate the confidence to stand up for yourself while still respecting the rights of others. When you’re assertive, you’re honest and open about what you want, and you can express your feelings calmly and confidently.
Did you know that most of our beliefs are formed up to the age of 7, by exploring the world and deciding what each experience means? And if we don’t challenge and reframe them, they become outdated in time.
For example, if you were scolded by your parents every time you wanted something for yourself, or you were labeled as ‘bad’ every time you opened up about your honest experiences, there’s a good chance you’ve adapted one of the following beliefs:
✔ ‘My opinion doesn’t matter.’
✔ ‘I shouldn’t express what I want because they’ll get upset with me.’
✔ ‘If what I did was bad, then I’m bad, and it’s better to stay quiet.’
Here are my 3 tips on how to be more assertive in life:
1. Practice in Front of a Mirror
If you want to become assertive and stand up for yourself, you have to become comfortable in your skin and become familiar with your authentic voice.
Here’s what I want you to do: go in front of a big mirror and watch the way you carry yourself. Do you see any tension in your muscles? Are any parts of your body that look stiffer than others? What is your posture?
Now, start saying the things that you want but are too afraid to express at the moment.
For instance, if you want to get a raise, practice talking to your boss in the mirror. One tip that will help you no matter what situation you’re in is to take deep breaths while you’re talking. Try to breathe through your belly and relax your body as much as you can. The calmer you become, the more assertive you’re going to sound.
You can do this exercise once or twice a day, and in time you’ll see a difference in your posture, your facial expressions will change, and you’ll come up with better ways to assert yourself. The purpose of this exercise is to unleash your creativity so that you can come up with as many solutions as you can and become more confident to share them with others.
2. Get Comfortable with the Reactions of Others
One of the greatest fears of people who are not assertive is that they’re going to get rejected, ridiculed, or shamed. When you express your opinion, and someone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t mean that your opinion doesn’t matter or that you’re wrong. And, on the other hand, if someone doesn’t like what you’re saying, that doesn’t make them wrong either.
We all have different reactions because we have different belief systems, different upbringings, and different ways to express our needs.
Okay, let’s put it in practice. Let’s say your friend wants you to try their lasagna, but you don’t like lasagna and politely refuse. As a result, depending on their character, they can react in a couple of ways:
They can ask passive-aggressive questions to guilt-trip you; or have a more aggressive approach and insult you for not being a good friend; or they can give you the silent treatment; or, they’ll say ‘Okay,’ smile and move on.
In this situation, you have a couple of options: You can give in to their manipulative behavior (which they may or may not be aware of), or you can stand up for yourself, and politely decline again. Some people feel the need to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing, but every time you overexplain yourself, you make your argument sound weaker.
If someone doesn’t like what you’re saying, it’s their problem.
If someone doesn’t like your opinion, they have every right to, but you don’t have to change who you are just to fit in. Be aware of your needs and set healthy boundaries, so that other people know where you stand.
There’s a powerful affirmation that I teach my clients, and I also want to share it with you. Whenever you feel doubtful about expressing your truth, say this sentence to yourself a few times:
I am completely independent of the good or bad opinions of others.
Why do you need this affirmation in your life? Because being assertive is hard, especially if you’ve let other people step all over you in the past. Trust me, I’ve been there, it sucks. This affirmation will help you set the intention to be less reactive to other people, and you will become more assertive in time.
3. Be Kind, Loving, and Respectful When You Express Your Needs
Many people have a hard time being assertive because they express their opinions out of fear. If you come out of love, your voice will sound different, your facial expressions will be different, and your overall behavior will change.
Let’s say you want your partner to pay more attention to you. Instead of sulking or making a scene, have a long and deep conversation with… yourself.
Yes, that’s right. With yourself. Write a letter to yourself in which you tell yourself what you want. You can start by answering the following questions:
✔ What do I need from this relationship?
✔ What needs do I have that are not being met at the moment?
✔ Can I meet them on my own or is this something that only my partner can do?
Nine times out of 10, you’ll realize that you can meet your needs on your own. But let’s say it’s that one time when you want to connect with your partner on a deeper level.
Before you talk to them, remember why you love them, how much they mean to you, and remind yourself of the affirmation from tip number 2: I am completely independent of the good or bad opinions of others. Then, calmly and lovingly tell them what’s going on with you.
What’s key here is to realize that even if they say ‘no’ or don’t agree with what you’re saying, that’s okay. Being assertive is not about being always right or being on top of things; it’s about expressing your honest opinion and let other people have their own.
Assertiveness is a skill, but it’s not something that can happen in 5 or 10 minutes, so please be patient with yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t change right away.