Posted on 22nd January 2014
Do you always strive to please others? Or, go for what you want, regardless of the consequences? If so, then perhaps it’s time to take a different route and learn to be more assertive.
Hear the word “assertiveness” and chances are you’ll think of the typical stereotypes – the businesswoman who has discarded her softer qualities to climb the career ladder, the man who gets what he wants in life by any means available to him, the bossy husband and father who rules the roost at home; or the feminist who loudly confronts every sexist comment or gesture.
However, assertiveness is not about being outspoken, bossy or single minded, it’s about respecting yourself and the rights and feelings of others.
To gain a clearer understanding of what assertiveness is and is not, it’s worth looking at the three behavioural types:
1. Aggressive Behaviour
Commonly confused with being assertive, people who behave aggressively are loud, opinionated, arrogant or bossy. They like to prove their superiority in situations and often prey on other peoples vulnerability. They can be hugely defensive if challenged. And, although outwardly confident, aggressive people often have little real self-esteem.
2. Passive Behaviour
Those who are passive can be apologetic, indecisive and submissive. They find it hard to make decisions and avoid taking responsibility for decisions they make in life. This inability to take responsibility for anything often infuriates those around them. Faced with any confrontation, as passive person will either get visibly upset and give in, or run away to avoid it.
3. Passive aggressive behaviour
Someone who is passively aggressive, is not direct or blunt when making a point. Instead, they can sarcastic, deceiving and guilt inducing. They’re prone to sulking rather than shouting, in an attempt to manipulate the other person and make them feel guilty. Someone who is passively aggressive needs to be in control and has difficulty trusting others.
Do you recognise any of these behaviour types? It’s easy to be judgemental – to be hyper critical of yourself and others say’s Miles Davis, Managing Director of Psychology People. “if you take a more compassionate and realistic viewpoint, you will see that what all three have in common is a lack of any real self-esteem. This is usually reflects our experience as children.”
For example, someone who is aggressive may have had to prove themselves superior as a child in order to earn approval and love. While someone who is passive as an adult may have been criticised in childhood, so now they’re afraid to share their true feelings. Meanwhile, the passive aggressor has grown up believing that in order to get what you want it’s better to manipulate than to be direct.
The healthy alternative to these three behaviour types is to be assertive. Someone who is assertive is direct, honest, accepting, responsible, positive and willing to listen. They take responsibility for their own actions.“they are able to accept their own positive and negative qualities and, in doing so, is able to be more authentic in their acceptance of others” explains Miles. ”They do not need to put others down in order to feel comfortable in themselves” Another key trait, is the ability to acknowledge and ask for what they need – even if they know that they may be rejected. “truly assertive people have a very strong sense of self,” explains Psychology peoples, Miles Davis. “They are not dependent upon the approval of those around them”
Putting into Practise
Becoming more assertive in day-today life isn’t as easy as following and external formula. “its more sustainable to change from within,” explains Miles. “There are areas in our life where we find it easy to be assertive. For example, we wouldn’t let strangers into our homes when we don’t want to. Changing from within allows you to tap in to your natural assertiveness.”
A good starting point is to ask yourself, “How realistic is my fear of the consequences?” By exposing your fears you can challenge them – making it easier to assert your own needs. For example, a friend invites you round for pizza, even though you they know it’s the New Year and you’re unhappy with your weight and on a diet. Rather than just go along, eat the pizza, feel guilty and blame your friend, or, stay at home and wallow in self-pity, the assertive alternative would be to say, “Pizza sounds great, however I’m on a diet, so would it be ok for me to bring my own low fat Pizza/ or a Salad instead”
By doing this, you’re not expecting your friend to take pity on you, or take care of you. You’re being true to your needs, whilst respecting others.
Buy some time
Another tip is to buy some time is someone puts you on the spot. For example, if a friend calls and invites you to a dinner party, rather than say “Yes” automatically to keep them happy, say, “let me get back to you”. That way you have bought yourself some time to think exactly how you want to respond.
It is also vital to not let criticism get to you – remove your detractor’s power to hurt you. For example, if you are accused of being a spoil sport for not accepting a dinner invitation, understand that it’s your right to stand your ground and not get drawn into a fight. Simply say “I’m not being a spoilsport, losing weight is important to me and it is helping to improve my self-esteem. Perhaps we could do something else together instead?”
“At the end of the day, there is no one size fit’s all” say’s Miles. Ultimately it’s about building your self-esteem, so that you feel comfortable in your own skin and have a centred send of self” “this may take some time and practise, but in doing so you will go on to live a more open and relaxed life, free of self-criticism