For some people, knowing when to speak up or to keep quiet is something that comes naturally. And while they might not get this right all the time, it is not going to be something that they need to focus on.
At certain times, they might speak up when they should have kept quiet or kept quit when they should have spoken up, but this is likely to the exception as opposed to the rule. And if one observed their behaviour, they are likely to describe them as assertive.
However, that might not be the case; as it will all depend on how they interpret their behaviour. One person might say that their behaviour is an example of what it means to be assertive, but another person might see them as being rude or that they’re ignoring the needs and feelings of others.
What this shows is how there is what is taking place, and then there is ones interpretation of what is taking place. If ones focus is on the needs of others and doing everything they can to please them, then being assertive could be seen as being negative.
Their needs and doing what they can do please themselves is therefore secondary, and this is why it is going to be a challenge for them to be assertive. What is taking place within them could be a mystery or it could just end up being overlooked.
They could believe that putting their needs first is selfish and so, pleasing other people is going to be their priority. If one was to think about putting their needs first and standing their ground, it could cause them to experience guilt and shame.
But this would show that one doesn’t heave a healthy outlook of what it means to be assertive. Being assertive doesn’t mean one no longer cares about other people’s needs and feelings, what it means that one is able to stand up for themselves when it is appropriate.
One could believe that they only have two options: the first option is to ignore the needs and feelings of others, and the second is to ignore their own needs and feelings. Being assertive could be seen as something that will lead to violence, conflict or ‘drama’.
When one stands their ground and expresses themselves, it doesn’t mean that they’re pointing the finger or becoming aggressive. What it means, is that one is in touch with what is taking place within them and as a result of this, they are able to take the appropriate action.
This might mean that one needs to walk way from someone or a situation that is dysfunctional, instead of staying there and allowing it to affect their wellbeing. One might disagree with what another person is saying and instead of staying quiet they allow themselves to share their point of view. And this can be done in a way that is respectful.
Ones intention is then not to harm another or to upset them, it is to protect themselves. It could also cause another person to be aware of something they’re not aware of, and one is then assisting the other person through being assertive.
While one might believe that it is best to say nothing, the other person might be only too happy to hear what one has to say. They might not realise that there is a problem and through being informed, both of their lives could improve.
Just as if one stays and doesn’t leave or walk away from a situation that is unhealthy, their life is not going to change. It could be something that not only allows one to move on, but causes the other person to realise that their behaviour is not acceptable. And this might be something they’re only able to realise if one walks away.
The Healthy Approach
What this shows is that being assertive not only benefits oneself, it also benefits others. This is not to say that other people will always appreciate assertive behaviour; as they could end up pulling away or they could even become abusive.
If one is walked over by others and allows other people to define them, they’re going to be used to feeling: angry, frustrated and powerless. And while this is affecting their wellbeing, it could be what feels safe.
So the need is going to be there for one to be assertive and at the same, this it is not something that one feels comfortable with. At a deeper level, one could fear that they will be abandoned if they speak up. This could be an emotional experience that they cover up through keeping quiet and pleasing others.
As an adult, it is clear that one can’t be abandoned by others; if they were a child, then it would be possible. But just because one is physically an adult, it doesn’t mean they feel like an adult.
During ones childhood years, their needs may have been ignored and one came to see that they had to fulfil their caregivers needs. If one expressed their needs, they may have been either physically or emotionally abandoned.
And in order to survive, one would have had to disconnect from the pain of not getting their needs met and to do what their caregivers wanted. So as these emotional experiences have remained within one’s body, they will continue to re-create these early experiences.
One approach would be for one to have some kind of assertiveness training or to ‘develop boundaries’; another approach would be for one to face and release the emotions that have remained within them from these early years. This is something that can take place with the assistance of a therapist or a healer.
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Oliver JR Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.