"It is better to be a lion for a day
than a sheep all your life."
There is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. In a recent therapy session, I spoke with my therapist about assertion and how important it is. Not too long ago I found myself in a situation where I wasn't nearly as assertive as I could have (should have!) been, and I ended up angry and unhappy because of it. If I had asserted myself properly and had spoken up for myself when I should have, I would have not had feelings of anger and resentment that I needed to bottle up. Generally I would consider myself a pretty assertive person (even aggressive at times), but there are certain situations in which I've let things slide and, by not sticking up for myself, ultimately experienced a wide range of negative emotions ranging from anger to frustration to guilt. Seeing as my goal is to live a positive life, it became clear to me in this particular therapy session that I needed to take a closer look at being assertive and determine how I could assert myself positively without coming off as an aggressor.
Though I'll admit that I had a hard time doing this at the time, my therapist suggested I picture myself as a lion. She asked me to describe what I would look like and what I would do if I were a lion and I were put in a situation that made me angry or uncomfortable. Initially my responses to her questions were timid and reserved (which is actually quite unlike me!) and I was hesitant to imagine myself as an angry lion. So often when I'm confronted with a difficult situation, I want to avoid it. I used to believe it was easier to run than it was to stay, but I'm learning this is not true. It's much more effective to be a strong and mighty lion than it is to be a timid mouse, quickly scuttling away from any danger.
By the end of the session, I was able to imagine myself as a strong, proud lion, unafraid of the world around me and certain to stay and defend myself when put in an unpleasant situation. What was really cool about the session (though, at first, I was intimidated by this) was the creation in my mind of this image of a lion. Since that day, it has become my reference point for whenever I want to run. Whenever I feel uncomfortable, scared, or nervous, I think of that lion in my mind. I gather strength from that image and I march head-on into whatever situation I must face.
Sounds a bit silly, doesn't it? I would have thought so too -- if I hadn't experienced it first hand for myself. You see, after that therapy session in which I imagined myself as a lion, I went on to go back to the original situation that had sparked this discussion and handle it in a assertive manner. Even though the incident was over, I went back to the person who had upset me and spoke up about my feelings. And you know what? The response was overwhelmingly positive. We discussed the situation in a calm manner and I was able to express (and assert!) myself without over reacting or feeling the need to run.
And that wasn't the only time the image of the lion worked for me. Later that same day I faced a situation that was unpleasant and, as I was headed out the door about to avoid confrontation, I thought about the lion and I stepped back inside. Instead of avoiding, I faced the situation head-on and, much to my surprise, found the outcome to be a good one. Had I left without dealing with the situation, it might have been prolonged and I know it would have bothered me all day. Remembering the lion helped me to go back in and deal with the situation, boldly unafraid of what the outcome might be. Since that day, I'm returning again and again to the image of the lion and it's helped me through some tough situations. It's also helped me to develop some ideas about what it means to assert yourself positively. Here are seven steps that I've come up with to make the most of being a lion...
7 Steps for Asserting Yourself Positively
Create an image of strength in your mind. If you're anything like me, you might initially think this sounds ridiculous, but once I tried it, I found that it really was helpful to have that image of myself as a lion in my mind when faced with a situation in which I needed to assert myself. If a lion doesn't work for you, there are plenty of strong, powerful images you could use and come back to whenever you needed an assertive boost.
Believe in yourself and your values. If you want to be assertive, you first have to believe in yourself and what is important to you. Without a firm sense of self in place, it can be very hard to stand up for yourself and assert yourself when necessary. You have to know what you are and what you believe in to be an truly assertive person so start working on these things now so that you can make the most of situations in where you need to stick strongly to your beliefs.
Understand your own boundaries. One of the keys for being assertive is to know where your boundaries lie -- and to know when someone crosses them. Before you are even put in an uncomfortable situation, it's essential that you define what makes you uncomfortable. You have to establish what you will tolerate and what you won't because if you don't have a clear view on what is acceptable, you won't know when a line has been crossed. Take some time to figure out what works (and doesn't!) for you.
Know what you want and what your purpose is. When you find yourself in a situation where you must assert yourself, it's very important to know exactly what you want to achieve by asserting yourself. In some situations, it will be an achievement to stop others' unpleasant behavior. In others, it will be about reaching a specific goal. If you want to assert yourself positively, you must know what it is that you want and what purpose that thing will serve for you. In the heat of a moment, what you want can get lost so make sure you remember what your values are when you're trying to determine your goal.
Be respectful of others (and yourself). Being assertive doesn't have to mean being aggressive towards others. You can be your assertive self without putting others (or yourself) in a vulnerable or uncomfortable position. How can you make sure this happens? Be respectful. Even when being assertive, you can behave with respect and kindness. Think of how you would want to be treated if you were in the others' shoes and keep that in mind as you assert yourself. And don't forget to be respectful of yourself and conduct yourself in a manner that will make you proud.
- Express clearly what your expectations are. When asserting yourself in any situation, it is imperative that you very clearly express what it is that you want from others. If you are not clear about what you want, it can be very hard to for others to give you what you want. Don't use vague terms or try to hedge your meaning by using words that are indirect or confusing. Instead, be as clear and direct as possible. It can be hard to do this sometimes, but I've found that most of the time I am very clear about what I want -- even if it's not something that pleases someone else -- I've been likely to get what I want. Remember: no one will know if you don't clear express what it is that you need.
- Practice your assertiveness often. You and I both know the saying well: practice makes perfect! Cliched? Yes. True? Yes. If you want to be able to assert yourself positively, you have to do so often. This doesn't mean you have to change who you are are insist you get your way every second, but it does mean that you have to start putting yourself first and realize that, whatever your needs are, they are just as valuable as the needs of others. Think about some situations in which you could have been assertive and weren't and then determine whether or not there are situations in the future that you can assert yourself more effectively. Practice, practice, practice!
It can be difficult sometimes to know where to draw the line, but, if you want to live the most positive present life you can, you have to be able to stand up for yourself and let that inner lion roar when it needs to. If you're like me, you might find it tempting to avoid situations in which you should be asserting yourself because, let's face it, sometimes it's easier just not to deal with them. However, I've found that the more I assert myself, the happier I am -- and, contrary to what I might have thought, I am not gaining this happiness by taking away from the happiness of others. Sometimes it can seem as if, by asserting yourself and demanding what you want, you will deprive others from what they want, but, when you assert yourself, you're actually making your relationships with others better because you are establishing what you want and this often leads to two things: (1) you get what you want more often, and (2) you inspire others to assert themselves and ask for what they want. Yes, asserting yourself can be hard in some situations, but I've learned that it really does lead to more positive relationships with others and, just as important, a more positive relationship with yourself.
How do you deal with tough situations in which you have to assert yourself?
What advice would you offer for someone struggling with assertiveness?