Dr Eddie column: The benefits of assertiveness

Over the next few weeks I want to promote the benefits of assertiveness to you and your family. Some people are very fortunate that they have good role models and have strong assertiveness skills.

Over the next few weeks I want to promote the benefits of assertiveness to you and your family. Some people are very fortunate that they have good role models and have strong assertiveness skills.

For many that’s not the case. In many families when someone has something to say they often avoid it (conflict avoidance) and then at other times the person overreacts and says what they want to say in a aggressive way.

To make a judgement on this are you or were your parents the type of person who would not express your point of view to a person in authority e.g. teacher, priest, doctor, nurse, shop assistance, boss, even though you needed to.

I think Irish society years ago did not allow for many of our parents or grandparents to express their views or concerns. We have seen the fallout of this in terms of psychological harm associated where some authority figure (adult) harmed those with less power (children).

The good news is assertiveness can be learned. Assertiveness skills can help protect against harm, empower, and build confidence. Using Assertiveness skills regularly is the key to becoming stronger at it.

Step 1 What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights, without undue anxiety, in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.

It’s not aggressiveness, it’s a middle ground between being a bully and a doormat. It’s dependent on a feeling of confidence, a sense that if you behave in a certain way, something predictable will occur.

Where does non-assertive behaviour come from? Many of us are taught that we should always please and/or defer to others, that it is not nice to consider our own needs above those of others, or that we shouldn’t “make waves”, that if someone says or does something that we don’t like, we should just be quiet and try to stay away from that person in the future.

Step 2 Selective Assertiveness

Most people find it easier to be assertive in some situations than others. This makes perfect sense. It’s a lot easier to hold your ground with a stranger than with someone you love who might get angry if you express your true feelings. However the more important the relationship is to you, the more important it is to be assertive.

Assertive behaviour lead to more respect from others, a willingness to see you as a person who respects themself, a worthwhile and loveable person!

Is assertiveness always the best way to go? Before you act assertively in a situation, you have to decide if you can live with the consequences. Although assertive behaviour usually will result in a positive response, some people might react negatively. For example, if your boss is completely unreasonable and is known to go ballistic if anyone dares question him, even non-aggressive, respectful, assertive behaviour might set him off and you could lose your job. If that’s your situation, then you may decide you can’t afford to be assertive, and learn other stress management techniques.

If you’re planning to try assertive behaviour, remember that the other person is used to you behaving in a certain way, and may be confused when you change your style. Why not tell the other person up front what you’re trying to do? Choose a peaceful moment, you might try the following.

“I need to tell you something and I’d like you to hear me out before you comment. I’ve noticed that when we are making decisions, I find myself feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. I’ve realised that I often go along with your ideas, without insisting on considering some of my ideas as well, because I’m afraid of upsetting you. I’m going to try something different. When I start to get frustrated, I’m going to ask that we stop before making a final decision and be sure we have considered all the options. I know that will be a change for you, but I really think it will help our relationship to grow”. How can anyone argue with that?

Step 3 Knowing Your Bill of Rights

The first thing when it comes to assertiveness is to understand that you have the RIGHT to be assertive. So your homework task for this week is to learn your Assertive Bill of Rights! The following rights highlight the freedom you have to be yourself without disrespecting others.

I have the right to...

• have and express my own feelings, thoughts and opinions appropriately, and have them taken seriously.

• ask for what I want.

• say “no” without feeling guilty.

• be treated with respect and not taken for granted.

• offer no reasons or excuses to justify my behaviour.

• set my own priorities.

• make mistakes.

• change my mind.

• make my own decisions and deal with the consequences.

• say “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know”

• choose not to assert myself.

• While I have these rights you have these rights too!

Knowing your rights is the first step to allowing yourself to becoming assertiveness. When it comes to the difficult time of asserting yourself, knowing and reminding yourself of your Bill of Rights can help strengthen your resolve.

Next week we will look at some specific techniques you can try, for this week learn your assertive Bill of Rights.

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As well as his counselling practice, Dr Eddie does talks, training and workshops for school, community, voluntary, sporting and work groups. Call 087 1302899 or visit www.dreddiemurphy.ie

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Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychology and counselling practice in Portarlington, helping with panic attacks, anxiety, anger, depression, PTSD, etc for children, adults and families. Call 087 1302899 or visit www.dreddiemurphy.ie