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Assertiveness - The Basics Of...

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s an outpatient psychologist with a long running private practice, clients often ask me, "Is there more to being assertive?"

The short answer is "speak up." The more complete answer is we first have to understand what assertiveness is and what it is not. Let me tackle the last part first.

Assertiveness is not aggression. It is not yelling, name calling or doing anything physically violent. It is not about getting in someone's space or place if they do not invite us. It is not about destroying other's property. Neither is assertiveness about being passive. That involves not saying or doing things in an indirect way, but still having a deceitful intent. Such statements blur messages on purpose, confusing the recipient into thinking the intent is something it is not. Manipulating falls into this category.

Being non-assertive is different from being passive. The difference is that choosing to not speak up is very up front,conscious and has no ulterior motives. It is not manipulation, just the choice to not respond. Sometimes this is the better choice, like when our boss is mad at us, yet we would like to have a promotion. Or, how about when the mortgage company says they are foreclosing... Not speaking at that time is judicious, and choosing to not assert our point of view is wise.

Assertiveness is about speaking up in a precise way, stating what you want and using "I" statements. "I would like to have that cake" is an assertive statement. "That cake would sure look nice on my plate" is a semi-assertive statement. "My, how good that cake looks" is not an assertive statement. "That cake would make me feel better about you" is a manipulative statement. Saying nothing about cake because we do not want any is choosing to just not be assertive.

Assertiveness involves five steps. I wrote an ebook on this subject, in which I explain them in detail and how they flow from one to the other, each needing to be completed before the next. For this article, here's a quick summary.

Step One is asking yourself what are you thinking or feeling.

Step Two is about validating that your thoughts and/or feelings are valid and important.

Step Three is thinking and planning how we might express ourselves, assuming we get through Step Two and actually think what we have to say is important enough to say or do something about.

Step Four is actually executing the plan; that is, doing what we fantasized in Step Three.

Step Five is feedback. How did it go? If we achieved some satisfaction, we are done with that thought. If not, it is back to Step One.

This may seem a little obvious, but each of us goes through at least the first two steps with every thought and/or feeling. Those thoughts and/or feelings that are prominent; that is, rise to some higher level in our awareness, are considered more and are more likely to motivate us to consider doing something about. This is Step Three, which once engaged, usually carries us through to completion (Step Five after Step Four). This process is automatic and very, very fast. It is usually unconscious; that is, out of everyday awareness, automatic and usually psychologically reflexive(patterned, rehearsed responses that we chalk up as mental habits).

Coaxing oneself to be assertive is about realizing the steps that are involved and how we each follow them. If we do so unconsciously, then assertiveness is hit or miss, depending upon our early training. We inherit most of these thought patterns from our parents, which could be good or bad. The key to becoming assertive is to become aware of the above and practice it a few times. Usually people see the gain and are motivated to continue. There is always a group of folks who bicker and claim being assertive is a bad thing. They say it engenders conflict, and therefore does not work, is a waste of time, etc.

In my ebook, I address a very long list of reasons people generate why we should not be assertive. Some of them are quite creative, but all of them lack basis. I explain all of this in seriousness and detail. In my view, assertiveness is a very affirmative skill and is one of the easiest abilities to acquire. Once practiced, assertiveness spreads out in the psyche and positively influences more experiences than the reader can imagine, starting with decreasing anxiety and depression and increasing self-esteem.

by Alexis Mills


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