Nothing strikes fear in people like the need to assert themselves while in communication with another. In fact, most people are left floundering because they truly don’t know the skill of assertion. Most times the pendulum of expressing ourselves swings to a quiet resignation or out and out aggression. There is a middle ground to be had and its time we faced this anxiety producing skill head on.
Let’s first address why there are times we sit cowering in a corner, unable to share our needs or opinions. Most folks freeze when the time comes to share their thoughts or desires. Sometimes its because they truly don’t’ know what it is the wish to convey, they just know they feel uncomfortable. No one has ever asked them what it is they need and so, very few of us are skilled at identifying that for ourselves as we mature.
The freeze response is also supported by our society as a whole because we are often fed the propaganda that to have a desire that flies in the face of others is “selfish”; whereas the role of martyr and denying yourself, is heralded. Selfish has become a dirty word in our world, implying that anyone that has a degree of selfishness is comparable to a slithering, no-good snake. No one wants to be perceived in such a loathsome fashion and so thoughts and feelings are bottled up, the rumination of those thoughts and feelings leading to an explosive fermentation.
That’s when the pendulum swings full force into aggression. The invalidated workings of our internal world can be contained no more and so they are let loose onto others, leaving a trail of destruction behind them and confirming that self expression is only for the troubled few.
So, what is the middle ground and how do we get there?
Let’s discuss the term selfish. Indeed, there is a form of selfishness that one might consider undesirable. We’ve all seen it in action, felt its repercussions and have no doubt acted it out ourselves. This level of selfishness is performed with the complete exclusion of consideration of, or for, others. There is no room for empathy in this degree of selfishness.
The healthy version of being selfish takes into account how our actions might impact others, perhaps even clearly sharing our understanding of this. It is the intention behind this form of selfishness that sets it apart. It’s not conveying an air of, “This is what I need and I don’t care what you think.” Instead it speaks volumes by saying ” I understand that this might be uncomfortable for you and others, but this is what I need to take care of myself.” It’s about setting healthy boundaries and limits, not cutting someone off at the knees.
If we are able to take this first step, then we have made great accomplishments in preventing a nuclear explosion from our resentments. Things aren’t allowed to fester but instead given a form of release. If and when we do experience anger, it is a very normal human emotion, then there are also assertive ways to articulate that without verbally assaulting another.
A very key step to assertively voicing our anger is to keep your mouth shut, at least momentarily until the rational part of our brain is able to participate. That’s not to say you walk away in a cold silence, but instead assertively state, “I am too mad to talk right now. I will get back to you when I am calmer.” That’s when you exit and proceed to take an internal inventory.
Ask yourself, “What do I need?” Perhaps you need to feel appreciated. What does that look like to you? Is it something the other person says or can demonstrate? When you have some clarity it is then safe to return to your interaction to articulate what you’ve discovered.
It is always wise when having these types of discussions to use “I” statements. In communicating with another saying, “I felt (feeling) when or because…” and “I need…” is about taking ownership for your experience and is not part of the blame game. You know what that sounds like, it starts out with the phrase, “You made me feel…” and is about attacking and accusations. Also note, feelings are one word. Disappointed, sad or hurt are examples of emotions. Stating, “I feel that you…” and then continuing with a stream of words is not sharing our feeling but is instead conveying a thought.
Being assertive is not , I repeat not, about getting others to agree with us or approve of what we are sharing. The truth is they may very well disagree with us and not even understand it all . The goal in assertion is to respectfully share what is going on for you internally, that’s all. You’re simply honoring yourself, all the while realizing that the other person has their own desires and right to assertion as well.
While the skill of assertiveness take concerted effort, as it is a skill never demonstrated to many of us, the rewards that are reaped far out weigh the time it takes to hone its use. Assertiveness is an act of self love, compassion and respect – all of which you deserve.
Be well and happy.
(One order of business: Per Google you will now be required to have a Google account to read & follow this blog in the future. I hope you consider doing just that! Thanks.)