Reading Jussie’s 'Assertiveness Is Not A Dirty Word', I am forced to confront my lack of confidence and inability to effectively communicate my thoughts and feelings, particularly with those to whom I am, or should be, closest. These weaknesses of mine have, and continue to, challenge my ability to form and maintain meaningful connections with friends and family. They also often lead to feelings of anger and hopelessness, of frustration, fear and worthlessness.
As I continue reading Jussie’s work, I am forced to also confront the fact that I am often passive and censor myself for fear of other people’s responses. This passivity has the effect of reinforcing my negative self-concept and my inability to connect with others. At times, communion with others seems too difficult and I withdrawal as a consequence. This process is physically and emotionally taxing, and I recognise that it affects me and those around me. But, when reason rears its rational head, I also recognise that I deserve better and so do the people for whom I care. In order to form meaningful connections with others, in order to be emotionally available and have my opinions and feelings heard and respected, I must first listen to and respect my self. Perhaps, because I have censored myself for so long, I have forgotten the sound of my own voice. Perhaps, it is my inability to be open and honest with myself that prevents me from being open and honest with others.
Jussie affirms that “assertiveness is a very hard skill to master”. This brings me hope because, although it may take time and effort, the ability to be assertive can be learnt, it can be nurtured, and it can flourish. Like a muscle strengthens with physical exertion, assertiveness strengthens with honesty and openness – first with myself and then with others.
Being assertive requires practice and conscious effort. Here are some pointers for practicing assertiveness in our everyday lives:
Sit with your feelings, even if they are uncomfortable, and learn to identify them. This may seem commonsensical and often is very helpful, but it doesn’t always come naturally. For example, it is important to recognise that anger is often felt in response to feelings of frustration or rejection. This is why anger is often called a ‘secondary’ emotion.
Ask yourself, “Where is this feeling coming from?” and “Why is it here?” Again, this may seem commonsensical, but if we identify the part/s of our bodies from which our emotions are radiating, we can better control and/or release them. In addition, recognising that we feel emotions as a result of internal or external stimuli can help to validate our emotional response and thus improve our confidence. Identifying the source of our emotional response also gives us the opportunity to effectively deal with the issue at hand.
Eliminate negative self-talk. Telling ourselves that we are worthless or that our thoughts and feelings are unjustified only serves to erode our self-concept. We each have strengths and weaknesses; the key here is to recognise both as well as the fact that our strengths and weaknesses do not detract from the inherent dignity we each have as human beings. We must acknowledge our weaknesses only to better ourselves. By the same token, we must also credit ourselves for the things we do well.
Be clear on your wants, needs and expectations. If we understand what it is we want, need and/or expect, we will be in a much better position to communicate these to others.
Recognise and respect the wants, needs and expectations of others. This stems from the age-old adage, ‘treat others the way you wish to be treated. By showing others respect, we are more likely to receive respect.