Assertiveness - do you struggle with it?
Updated: Mar 15
My favorite definition of assertiveness is expressing a difference through connection. To me*, being assertive means expressing my thoughts, feelings, wants and needs - my Truth - to another person while remaining connected to them.
There was a time in my life where the word assertive felt like a negative word to me. Perhaps it does to you. As I’ve progressed along my emotional healing journey, I have come to love the word assertive! I love being assertive. It means I can communicate and maintain my boundaries, which are essential to my happiness and well-being. For some, the word may evoke a negative connotation - we may think it means aggression, anger, or even bullying. That is not being assertive. Based on the definition I gave above, it is actually the opposite - because all of those behaviors sever the emotional connection between ourselves and another person.
So if true assertiveness is about connection, why do we so often hesitate to be assertive? One major obstacle is fear.
We may be afraid of losing connection instead of deepening it. Our fears may include:
- Being seen as selfish, bossy, rude, aggressive, or weak
- Losing a relationship
- Losing a benefit like a job or financial support
- That the person will react negatively or harshly
Give yourself grace if this is you - it was me for a very long time. I think most of us are recovering people pleasers in one way or another. We are often socialized from a young age to honor the wants and needs of others over our own. If we derive our worth from how others see us and how they feel about us, assertiveness can feel difficult. However, practicing assertiveness deepens our self trust and self love and strengthens our undersanding of our worth.
Feeling overly responsible for another person can impede us too. Often we are conditioned to feel responsible for how others feel. That can happen in childhood with abuse or trauma, but it can actually start with something as simple as "Eat your dinner; your mom will feel bad if you don't." Another example is when we say things like "she made her angry" or "he makes me happy." To help dismantle this conditioning, it helps me to ask myself if what I am feeling responsible for is actually within my stewardship.
Another common obstacle - when we believe we are being assertive, but we are actually being manipulative. The difference? When I am being assertive, I am seeking to communicate MY thoughts, feelings, wants and/or needs. When I am being manipulative, I am seeking to make someone else DO something. When I am manipulative, I enter the exchange with an end goal in mind OTHER than expressing my truth and asserting and protecting my boundaries.
Another obstacle might be not knowing what to say or how to say it. We may not have experienced healthy examples of assertive communication. So what does that communication look like? When I am communicating assertively, I like to use this pattern:
State Connection -> Your Truth -> Offer Future Connection
State Connection - establish or reassert the connection between you and the other party.
Your Truth - communicate your boundaries - your thoughts/feelings/wants and/or needs, unapologetically and clearly
Offer Future Connection- Restate the connection or define clearly what connection can look like moving forward.
Here are some examples:
Communicating a new boundary to a friend:
State Connection: “I really love and value our friendship.”
Your Truth: “I can no longer listen to you vent about your ex. I don’t have emotional space for that.”
Offer Future Connection: “I would love to go to lunch and talk about your future plans, what makes you happy, or how things are feeling for you at your new job.”
Communicating to an overstepping family member:
State Connection: “I care about you. I value the connection between you and the baby.”
Your Truth: “I am the parent, and I decide what is okay for him to eat. I have told you that we don’t feed him sugar. You keep feeding him sugar against my wishes. Don't do that.”
Offer Future Connection: “I would love for you to keep babysitting him on Fridays, playing with him taking him to the park, dancing with him - doing all the beautiful and fun things you do with him, and feeding him whatever food I have left for him. "
Communicating to an invasive stranger:
State Connection: “It appears that you’re interested in my sweet baby. She’s a cutie, isn’t she?”
Your Truth: “We do not let strangers touch her hair or get in her personal space.”
Offer Future Connection: “You can wave to her though. And she loves it when people smile at her.”
Sharing hurt feelings with a family member:
State Connection: “I'm grateful for all the great memories we have together.”
Your Truth: “What you did was betrayal. It hurt me so deeply. ”
Offer Future Connection: “I still care about you. However, I don’t trust you. I need time. I wish you well with everything, but I won’t maintain the closeness we had.”
As with any time we create new neural pathways - new ways of being - there will be some resistance, both internal and external. Communicating assertively can feel awkward, like many other things we do for the first time. It can evoke feelings of guilt. And in relationships with people who are unaccustomed to your assertiveness, there will most likely be pushback. This doesn’t mean you are wrong - in fact, the pushback can often be a signal that we have been betraying our own boundaries for far too long. As we increase in self love and create a new way of being where we honor ourselves in our interactions, it gets easier. I promise! It also invites other people to honor themselves too.
Here is where essential oils can have such a profound impact. As we move beyond the resistance and persist in creating new neural pathways, oils help to magnify our self healing work and reinforce and affirm what we are creating. Using essential oils consistently has amplified my own healing work in incredible ways. Use the oils by applying them over your heart, on your wrists or bottoms of your feet, or by inhaling them from the palms of your hands. Do what feels right to you and apply them in whatever ways you will be consistent at doing.
Lavender - oil of communication: use if you struggle with being seen and heard, with fear of rejection, or to be emotionally honest with self and/or others
Spearmint - oil of confident speech: use if you have strong opinions but you hold back from expressing them, if you stutter or used to stutter and so hesitate to speak, or you doubt your ability to communicate well
Wild orange - oil of abundance: us if you fear losing people, respect, or relationships. Use if you tend to stay in relationships for fear that you will never find anything better
Frankincense - oil of truth: Use to remember who you are and to discern your truth so you can communicate it. Particularly helpful if you feel resentful in relationships but you don’t know what you want
Geranium - oil of love and trust: Use when you’ve lost trust in others due to trauma and feel closed off, hard hearted, unable to connect
Basil - oil of renewal: Use if you struggle with being assertive because you are emotionally exhausted and drained from long standing habits of being overly sacrificing of your boundaries
I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings about assertiveness! What does this topic bring up for you?
*As with everything I share, I am not an expert. I am simply a woman on her own healing journey sharing my ever deepening and expanding Truth.
**My suggestions and recommendations are based on doTERRA essential oils. Here's why.