How to Assert Yourself: Great Assertiveness Tips

Megan Smith
 min read

Wouldn’t it be great knowing how to assert yourself without worrying about others?

How to Assert Yourself: Great Assertiveness TipsSome people worry about their actions for fear of the judgment of others and not being accepted by society.

Other people will have difficulty asserting themselves for fear of upsetting others.

But where do all these concerns come from?

How to assert yourself: Introduction

Today, everyone tends to compare themselves to others and follow the masses instead of listening to themselves or asserting themselves.

People with low self-esteem will find it very difficult to listen to themselves and especially to be respected.

This article will give tips to help you listen to yourself, respect yourself, and above all, assert yourself!

What is assertiveness?

The term “assertiveness” could be defined as the power to express one’s needs, thoughts, and emotions boldly and confidently without having to do so aggressively.

It is essential to know that we are not born “assertive” but that we become so. Generally, we assert ourselves through an adapted education that encourages us to express ourselves freely without reprimanding us for doing so.

However, it is also possible to assert oneself later through voluntary learning as an adult.

In theory, it always seems simple to assert yourself, except when you find yourself in certain situations.

For example:

  • asking for something,
  • refusing something or someone,
  • having a different opinion from the other person,
  • negotiating, or
  • expressing your dissatisfaction.

It is helpful to know that assertiveness difficulties are widespread. Many people struggle with asserting themselves:

  • Either gravely and chronically in diseases such as social phobia.
  • Or occasionally in some forms of depression.

Is it possible to assert yourself if you don’t value yourself?

Often, lack of assertiveness is associated with problems of low self-esteem. Indeed, this lack of assertion can provoke numerous avoidance behaviors that will, in turn, reinforce the poor self-image.

Generally, the person will avoid confronting all situations that may represent a social risk regarding the possibility of being rejected or devalued.

As a result, it is hard to dare ask for something, for fear of disturbing people, but also because a refusal is likely to lead to some form of trauma.

These people also fear conflict, which they systematically overestimate. They may already feel intimidated by others in everyday, calm interactions.

Hence, if they piss them off and make them angry, they figure they’ll be even more intimidated and afraid of them.

Lack of assertiveness can also be found in people with high fragile self-esteem. However, this lack will translate to aggressive and unassertive behavior.

For example, they will ask for things aggressively (to ensure they get them), refuse things curtly (because they feel uncomfortable), etc.

This perceived aggressiveness can be seen as poor compensation for fearing others and their possible resistance.

Because they’re uncomfortable, they figure they’ll claim respect if they get the moral high ground. As a result, they feel the need to intimidate in advance to deter any possible aggression or intrusion.

Symptoms of a lack of assertiveness

A lack of assertiveness can present itself in numerous ways:

  • Behavioral: this means not daring to say no, not daring to admit that you don’t know, not daring to ask or disturb, having difficulty responding to criticism, and not daring to say that you disagree. Then, when we do manage to express ourselves, we often do so with aggression, tension, or anger.
  • Emotional: this will result in anger, sadness, frustration, resentment towards oneself or others, etc.
  • Psychological: one will have an image of a vulnerable, dependent, or dominated self.

Our excuses can be very creative

To avoid inconvenient realities, we are very good at making excuses for not asserting ourselves.

People who lack assertiveness will always find excuses not to face the annoyance of others.

We may refrain from telling someone that something bothers us…

“because it is not the right time because he or she has had a bad day.”

Or we might not assert ourselves…

“because the atmosphere is good, and I’m afraid of ruining it for everyone.”

In short, all excuses are good to not give your opinion or say what you really think.

Assertiveness is not only a behavior to adopt but also a way of being

Difficulties in asserting oneself are so frequent and embarrassing that specific psychotherapeutic techniques were designed to overcome them: so-called assertiveness therapies.

Assertiveness therapies

They are a set of communication techniques developed in the 1960s, initially for the advocacy of minorities (such as women or people of color) and then used for all individuals who could benefit from them.

Most often, assertiveness therapy consists of role-playing situations in which patients act out and refine problem situations. These sessions usually take place in a group therapy setting.

As with self-esteem, assertiveness has only become necessary since modern, democratic, and non-patriarchal societies emerged.

In those days, the way one was allowed to talk to people depended more on status and power than on skill.

Therefore, the need to know how to assert oneself exists only in societies where the relationships between individuals are declared free and equal, at least in theory.

However, assertiveness is not just a stereotyped and commonplace behavior. Asserting oneself is a way to express one’s opinions boldly and confidently without aggressiveness.

Therefore, hostile behaviors such as aggression, domination, or manipulation are excluded.

The deeper nature of “assertiveness” is not only about behaviors but also about a person’s overall view of themselves and, thus, their self-esteem.

Indeed, by daring to express oneself and face certain situations, one will gradually build a more positive self-image and allow oneself to exist among others without putting them down.

The exercises that therapists propose are more than just “tricks” for better communication.

For example, engaging people in new situations they had previously avoided gives them new emotional and intellectual experiences.

These situational exercises allow people to get back on track, and the therapists make them aware that learning from their daily lives is possible.

In assertiveness therapy, the patient is not told what to do. Namely, the therapist will not say yes or no in a particular situation but rather explain how they can handle a problem to enable interesting things to happen.

One could compare it to a music teacher who teaches an instrument to a student, who then chooses the style of pieces and repertoire he wants to play (classical, jazz, or other).

Like all behavioral methods, assertiveness training is not just about behavior: it uses behavior as a lever, a gateway to change.

Source: Wilson & Gallois, Assertion and Its Social Context, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1993

It’s better to listen to yourself instead of lying to yourself

Assertiveness problems often repress one’s basic needs and aspirations because they may seem incompatible with or less important than the immense need for social acceptance.

As such, one would rather give up their needs and feel frustrated than express themselves and risk being judged, misunderstood, and ultimately rejected.

Over time, people who do this to themselves end up not even consciously feeling their psychological need to assert themselves anymore.

People who do not dare to assert themselves tend to totally repress their psychological desires: to say no, to speak up, the idea that they could say no, etc.

For them, daring to assert themselves or to be heard no longer even comes to mind. Saying what they want or think will no longer come out of their mouth.

Self-denial represents a form of self-repression that also extends to denying one’s emotions. These people do not even feel disappointment, envy, or unhappiness anymore.

However, rationalizations (such as when a person says to themselves: “I don’t really need or want it after all”) may change our minds but not our emotions.

Our emotions can prevent us from accomplishing this minor “crime” against ourselves, represented by all these renunciations.

Because our emotions never give up: they usually make us feel minor physical signs of tension or discomfort. This is what a neuropsychology researcher calls “somatic markers.”

The somatic markers can be defined as the signs from our emotional brain (which is more primary and less sensitive to the subtleties of social conventions) in reaction to our rational mind wanting to put our vital interests on the back burner.

Being more attentive to these small signals and all these discreet physical sensations in social situations is recommended.

Source: Damasio, The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex, Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological sciences, 1996

It is necessary to respect each other

Asserting ourselves also means respecting ourselves and our expectations. Not by fulfilling them all at all costs but by welcoming them and listening to them.

The more we are convinced that it is better to give up, the more we end up not seeing what we are doing to ourselves. Under the pretext of protecting ourselves from trouble and the fear of rejection, we stifle ourselves and deny ourselves the right to exist.

Again, this repression results in emotional and behavioral consequences, keeping us from many social exchanges.

Indeed, when we refuse to ask for a service or to say no, we prevent the other person from knowing who we are and being interested in us. Consequently, we deprive ourselves of genuine relationships every human needs.

If we don’t take risks in our social relationships, we make them highly sterile and impoverished.

There is also a psychological cost directly related to self-esteem issues: seeing yourself as less worthy than others.

Learn to be respected in therapy: How to assert yourself

You can learn to respect yourself through therapy by reflecting on your personal rights:

  • the right to take care of oneself,
  • to say no,
  • to disappoint,
  • to go back on your word if you have good reasons for it, etc.

The therapist then lists situations in which the person has not or has dared to assert himself, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each situation.

The therapist and patient relive the situations through role-playing. Then, they set goals for dealing with these situations differently in the future.

You have to assert yourself to stand up for yourself, but not against others

Implementing all these reflexes will tend to lead to the practice of assertive behaviors. However, only this regular practice will allow all the abovementioned changes to occur in depth.

In-depth, this does not necessarily mean in a hypothetical unconscious but at the level of our automatisms and reflexes. This is done gradually.

The first changes are not to say “no” where you used to say “yes,” but rather to quickly ask yourself, in the moment:

“What if I say no now?”

You have to dare to take the plunge once in a while.

Assertive behaviors

The more you practice a behavior, the easier it becomes to practice. Hence the prescription by the therapist to practice small exercises.

For example, suppose you have difficulty saying no. In that case, you could go to a busy market where salespeople are bound to try to sell you something, with the express intent not to buy anything.

It is essential to practice many exercises of this type, which do not involve any critical relational stakes. As such, you can gradually convince yourself that you are indeed capable of asserting yourself.

Then, you will have the necessary self-confidence when the stakes are more important, as may be the case with close friends or in your professional environment.

In all cases, practicing these assertive behaviors positively and respectfully is necessary.

This often contradicts what people imagine: they think that asserting themselves will trigger conflicts.

Assertive behaviors must be compatible with maintaining a social connection over time. They are different from aggressive relational behaviors and include empathy, which is the recognition of the other’s needs.

We are not “against” but “for.” Indeed, you do not assert yourself against others, but for yourself, for a person whose defense you take, for an ideal. The goal is to take your own place in society, not to take the place of others.

And this is often the mistake that people make: when we try to assert ourselves, we think we must resort to aggressiveness.

All relational behavior has three families of objectives, which may not be achieved at the same time:

  • Emotional objectives: having done what my inner voice was telling me to do. For example, I dared to ask for a discount and was refused, but I’m still glad I dared. Not to have done so would have tormented me more.
  • Material objectives: i.e., to obtain what I want such as a requested service or a discount. It can also be not doing what I don’t want to do.
  • Relational objectives: i.e., to assert myself while preserving the long-term relationship. This does not mean renouncing all forms of conflict but knowing how not to aggravate them: if the situation deteriorates, knowing how to let go.

How to assert yourself: Conclusion

Assertiveness is not innate. It is learned. There is a big difference between talking about your difficulties and facing them.

Only practice leads to real change. To be assertive, it is first necessary to listen to yourself to discern your needs, respect yourself, and then take the plunge.

Assertiveness does not mean adopting aggressive or hostile behavior to say what you think or get what you want.

It is possible to be assertive while being positive and, above all, respectful of others.

Assertiveness training in a (group) therapy setting allows you to have more self-confidence, live better with others, and realize that you, too, have a right to your own place in society.

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More