Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Assertiveness is an attitude. It's a healthy way of thinking, believing, and acting in any given situation when you need to; ask for what you want, express your true feelings or say no to something you don't need or want. At the core of thinking and acting in an assertive manner is a personal belief that you have the right to ask for what you want. Being assertive means giving yourself the same dignity and respect that you would give to anyone else. Learning to feel and act in a more assertive manner is a great way of increasing self-esteem and self-respect, which in turn can help to decrease anxiety. Assertiveness, in a nutshell, is the ultimate balance between aggressiveness and submissiveness. Let us examine the last two, briefly, before we explore how to become more assertive in an effort to decrease feelings of anxiety. Submissiveness or being passive involves giving in to someone else's preferences or wants while discounting your own preferences, wants, and needs in the process. If you tend to struggle with anxiety, you may act assertively in some situations but have a hard time being assertive in other situations, such as saying no to family members, close friends or co-workers. For some, being passive comes from growing up in a family that was one or more of the following; overly critical, overly judgmental, or expected perfection.
In overly critical, judgmental type families, children tend to go to great lengths to please their parents which in adulthood, often morphs into becoming a "people-pleaser." Being an adult people-pleaser can create stress, feelings of anxiety, depression, and in some cases even resentment or conflict. At the other end of the spectrum lives aggression. Aggressive behavior can involve communicating or behaving in a demanding and sometimes hostile manner. Aggressive people tend to be insensitive to the needs of other people. They will sometimes even resort to intimidation, manipulation or coercion as a way of getting what they need or want from others. By learning to be more assertive, you can express your thoughts, feelings, and needs more easily while also maintaining consideration for those around you. You can also learn to stand up for yourself and your rights without feeling guilty. But, how do you get there? How to learn to assert yourself when needed? One way is through gaining a better understanding of our basic human rights. As adults, we all have certain basic rights. However, some of the clients I've worked with through the years have either forgotten their basic human rights or perhaps as children, were never taught about their basic rights. Developing assertiveness involves recognizing that you, just as much as the next person, has the right to all the things listed in the Personal Bill of Rights that follows below.
Additionally, assertiveness involves taking responsibility for yourself by exercising your personal rights. Read through the Personal Bill of Rights which are detailed in, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. and think about your willingness to believe in and exercise each one. Personal Bill of Rights
1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
2. I have the right to say no to anyone for any reason.
3. I have the right to express my feelings, positive or negative.
4. I have the right to change my mind whenever I want.
5. I have the right to make mistakes.
6. I have the right to be less than perfect.
7. I have the right to follow my own values and standards without persecution.
8. I have the right to say no without feeling guilty.
9. I have the right to not be responsible for the behaviors, actions, and feelings of others.
10. I have the right to expect honesty from people around me.
11. I have the right to feel angry.
12. I have the right to change and grow as a person.
13. I have the right to feel scared and to express fear.
14. I have the right to say, "I don't know."
15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
16. I have the right to make my own choices and decisions.
17. I have the right to my own personal space and time.
18. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
19. I have the right to live and work in a non-abusive environment.
20. I have the right to make friends and feel comfortable around others.
21. I have the right to be myself.
22. I have the right to separate myself from negativity.
23. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
24. I have the right to be safe.
25. I have the right to express my own opinions and ideas.
26. I have the right to privacy.
27. I have the right to determine my own values and priorities.
28. I have the right to love and be loved.
29. I have the right to set boundaries.
30. I have the right to be happy.
If you struggle with anxiety, wish you had healthier boundaries, and tend to go waaayyy out of your way to please others, consider reading through the list above on a regular basis. Read it again and again as a way of reminding yourself that you are just as entitled to basic human rights as anyone else. By learning to recognize and exercise your basic rights, over time, you can become a more assertive and less anxious individual. Go ahead and give it a try. Your happiness is worth it!
To learn even more, you can purchase, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition here.
Misti Luke, LCSW maintains a small, private counseling practice in Broken Bow, Oklahoma where she provides outpatient treatment and consultation to individuals, couples, organizations and groups. For correspondence email firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional health care advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are struggling with a physical, mental or emotional health issue contact your primary care doctor. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog post.