Assertiveness: A Personal View, Part 1
We all know how important it is to be assertive, and yet so many of us find it very hard to achieve in practice, especially if we have had some depression or social anxiety in our lives. However, assertiveness is so fundamental to health and happiness, that if we have lost it, we will need to find it again; if we don’t naturally have it, we will need to learn it.
With this is mind, I would like to take a look at assertiveness, how it works and how we might achieve it if we are not coping well at the moment.
Our right to exist
Most people think of being assertive as an external thing, as facing up to difficulties with other people in a strong manner. The reality is that the problem goes deeper. To be assertive, we must first learn to face up to some core beliefs about ourselves. We need to see what we are doing to ourselves by being unassertive, and how this is affecting us.
The chronically unassertive person is a doormat, available for everyone to walk over, and unable to do anything about it. An unassertive person might eventually burst into a fit of anger at what they see as ‘the last straw,’ but this is not being assertive — it is a symptom of the problem. To change we must look at the feelings we have about ourselves. Why do we feel so pressured by others? Why are we so easily pushed around? Why do we let them in? Why can’t we stand our ground?
I believe that the core of unassertiveness comes from low self-esteem. Because we have a low view of ourselves, we are apt to believe that other people’s beliefs about us automatically are correct. We see everyone else’s point of view as stronger than our own, because we are not secure in our ownership of our own mental space. We are like squatters when everyone else is a landowner.
Before we can be confident in defending our mental space, we need to realize that we are landowners too. We need to know that no one can come into this place unless we invite them, that no one can make us think anything unless we allow them to. The unassertive person does not know this truth, and grants almost magical powers to those who wish to control them. It is like giving the keys of your home to everyone you meet, and then hoping that they won’t move in!
The first change is to realize that we are each owners of our own mental space, we have absolute title to that place, and that is where we must live. That is where we will learn to stand our ground, and so we had better get used to living on our own land. I use the metaphors of ‘land’ and ‘ground’ deliberately, to remind myself of the solid fact of assertiveness, and where it is drawn from. Assertiveness comes from our own awareness of our right to exist.