A Coaching Power Tool created by Mutriba Karimova
(Executive Coach, CHINA)
What is self-assertiveness?
It is interesting how some people ascribe negative connotation to the word “assertiveness”. I have searched a few dictionaries to know how the word is defined and I have found that aggressiveness and boldness are among its synonyms. It is no wonder, some people refrain from being assertive. Could it be because they associate assertiveness with being aggressive and imposing? However, the reluctance to be assertive for majority of people may stem from various fears that have to do with self- worth. What is really assertiveness and what does it mean to you?
Self-assertiveness can also be a synonym of self-expression. The person expresses himself through his thoughts and behavior and thus asserts/affirms his or her point of view. Self-assertiveness is when a person honors his/her values, desires, wants, expresses his/her opinion and voices his/her needs. Self-assertiveness does not have to be aggressive or passive, it simply means standing up for what one believes, what one values and being able to express it in words and behavior without being imposing or pushy.
In the words of Nathaniel Brandon:
Self-assertiveness means the willingness to stand up for myself, to be who I am openly, to treat myself with respect in all human encounters. Self-assertiveness is one of the pillars the self-esteem rests on, while any display of aggression or imposition indicates the opposite – lack of one’s confidence.
Self-assertiveness does not mean one has to always assert oneself by expressing his/her opinion in every discussion or one has to behave in a defiant way to prove the right to self-expression. Self-assertiveness means being on your own side, respecting who you are and not falsifying your persona to be liked. Self-assertiveness is closely linked to integrity: it nurtures self-respect, which in turn boosts one’s confidence and self-esteem.
Fear of self-assertiveness
It sometimes happens that people are selectively assertive: they are assertive with some people and not assertive with the others or assertive in some but not other situations or they are not assertive at all. Why is self-assertion so frightening?
Every time we act in accordance with our values, every time we express our thoughts, opinions, desires and wants, every time our behavior asserts who we are and what we stand for – we feel great about ourselves, we experience immense self-respect, we raise our confidence. However, a lot of people avoid assertiveness, prefer not to notice and ignore situations about conditions in their life that bother them. They choose to be silent and prefer to stay inert thinking their “voice” is insignificant and worthless anyway.
Standing up for your values, being open to who you are and treating yourself with respect may cause a “conflict” if others’ expectations of who you are- are not met. This fear of being disapproved or disliked by others keeps us from being true to ourselves and pushes us farther away from the authentic self.
When a person conceals their true thoughts and feelings because of the fear of judgment or non-acceptance in a situation, he or she may feel temporary relief at avoiding the possible friction or “misunderstanding” at that particular moment. However, later when the person is alone with himself/herself, he/she may feel pangs of regret and discomfort taking over the heart as they reflect back on the situation. It feels like betrayal of oneself at the cost of being liked, approved or accepted. They may replay the scene in their head many times and wish they said or acted as they truly felt about it. That’s how self-respect gets affected and consequently confidence gradually dissipates.
Some stay timid most of the time even though they want to express their thoughts. They are afraid of getting “it” wrong. They are afraid of being judged as wrong. They do not trust their judgment; they rather trust someone else’s judgment but their own. They do not believe in their capacity of being able to say something “sensible” or “smart”. They may live their lives under this assumption without letting anyone hear their unique, one of a kind of music. They think their voice or their thought are not that important anyway. They must have picked up this assumption in the past when they were told by either parent, teachers or someone who made them believe in their “insignificance”. And that is how so many unique ideas, thoughts, insights stay locked in people’s heads without being let out into the world, so that world can benefit from them. And it is all because one does not think his/her ideas are worthy to be heard.
It takes courage to be who you are, to express your thoughts and trust your own judgment.
It is fine to stay silent in a particular situation if you feel comfortable that way, however if you remain silent and you know it is not who you really are, it means you are experiencing fears of being disapproved, disliked, judged. Thus, you may not be acting in accordance with your values and you are not on your own side.
By changing your masks to conform to people’s expectations, you gradually lose your identity. You get lost between who you really are and who you want to be perceived as.
Take it as a practice to question yourself on a daily basis
Every time you feel discomfort within yourself, question it:
- Am I saying what I truly believe in?
- Do I stand up for who I really am?
- Am I on my own side?
Self-assertiveness is more than just verbal expression
Self-assertiveness is not just what you say but also the way your behave in accordance with your values. The way you assert who you are through the way your live your life. It is pointless to verbalize what you believe in but live your life according to some else’s expectations.
It can be challenging to start practicing assertiveness at the beginning. You risk being judged, disliked, and disappointed. But the reward of being on your own side is immeasurable. You respect yourself for standing your ground, you assume your power back and you start living YOUR life.
Example: (personal one)
It was about 5-6 years ago when I was at a farewell dinner of one of my colleagues. There were about 20 colleagues of mine sitting at a large round table. One of my colleagues could not make it to the dinner and my host made a very offensive remark about that person. Everyone at the table laughed. Being encouraged by the group’s laughter, the host made a few more inappropriate jokes about the person. I did not join in the laughter but I smiled to be a “part” of the group. Every time I recalled the remarks, the laughter and my smile, which showed I agreed with the group, the feeling of discomfort and unease would envelop me. It ate at me that evening and many months after. I could feel that it was one of those moments when I chose not to be on my own side and stifle the self. I knew I could remain silent without questioning the host about the offensive remark. However I had a choice to remain myself by not smiling at the jokes I did not find appropriate. I do not think we need to get into arguments with others unless the discussion directly involves us and asks for our opinion, the disagreements can be shown in so many other ways. Silence and refusal to smile was one of the options in that particular situation.
As Nathanial Branden points out:
appropriate self-assertiveness pays attention to context. The forms of self-expression appropriate when playing on the floor with a child are obviously different from those appropriate at a staff meeting. To respect the difference is not to “sacrifice one’s authenticity but merely to stay really focused. In every context there will be appropriate and inappropriate forms of self-expression. What is necessary is to know what one thinks – and to remain real
Self-assertiveness is one of the essential components of one’s self esteem and confidence.
It can be frightening to practice self-assertiveness for people who have not done it before. Therefore, they will find many excuses for their non-assertive behaviors.
However you could guide them toward small acts of assertion and have them feel the empowerment they can get out of it.
They could start with learning to say NO to another person when they feel like it. They could choose their challenge on a weekly basis and keep a journal where they record what they experienced and how it felt.
A coach can keep them accountable for the small acts of assertion that they choose to do each week.
You get them to start off with a goal that could also be their affirmation for every day of that week:
Easily feeling self-assertive more often
The goal and the affirmation for the following week could be:
Feeling the ease of being on my own side more often
There are questions that can be given to clients as a homework which facilitate their self-assertiveness:
- What would happen if I lived more self-assertively today?
- What would happen if I voiced my opinions and thoughts more often?
- What happens when I remain silent about what I want?
- What would happen if I allowed people to hear the music inside me?
- What would happen if I expressed more of myself today?
Practicing self-assertiveness can be challenging because there are always times when it calls on our courage but by being self-assertive we build our self-respect and therefore our self-esteem.