Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where you tried so hard to make the other person happy that you abandoned yourself in the process? Have you ever cared too much when trying to help others, sacrificing yourself as a result? Have you ever tried to please others, and in doing so betrayed your own needs and wants?
At different points in my life, I have abandoned myself, practiced self-sacrifice and betrayed my own needs and wants, never realizing how I was hurting myself in the process. Without knowing it, I was actively practicing the opposite of self-assertiveness, which is an important element of self-esteem.
What is self-assertiveness? Self-assertiveness means living authentically, being who you are openly every day, without worrying about pleasing others. It means honoring your wants, needs and values. Speaking and acting from your inner convictions as a way of life. Treating yourself with respect and being willing to stand up for yourself.
Some of us may have a negative view of self-assertiveness, equating it with aggressiveness or selfishness. And some of us come from a culture where it is more desirable to fit in than to stand out. How can we embrace self-assertiveness if we have been taught that it is bad or dangerous to do so?
It may help to clarify that self-assertiveness is NOT belligerence or inappropriate aggressiveness, it doesn’t mean pushing to the front of the line or being blind to other people’s needs. It’s NOT mindless rebelliousness. Also, you don’t have to give up being part of a family, community, or group. It’s all about finding a balance between who you are and being in relationship with others. We all have to adjust to particular situations, environments and people. But we do not want to consistently abandon who we are, and betray our true needs, wants and values on a regular basis.
When we do not express ourselves and do not stand up for our values when it is appropriate to do so, we are hurting our sense of self. The crazy part is that nobody is doing it to us – we are doing it to ourselves! (See this article on self-responsibility for more.)
So how can we start practicing Self-Assertiveness instead?
We need to become conscious of what we are doing and start taking action.
You can begin by writing endings for the following sentences, just jotting down different ideas that come to your mind, as quickly as possible, without thinking about it to much. Write as many endings for that sentence as you can in two or three minutes (between 6-10 is a good number.) Do not worry if your endings are literally true or make sense or are “profound.”
1. If I had the courage to treat my needs and wants as important…
2. If I am willing let people hear the music inside me…
3. If I am to express 5 percent more of myself today…
Then go ahead and take one of the actions you come up with. Speak up when you are wondering if you should say something. Share something about yourself with someone. Honor one of your wants and do something you have been meaning to do. Each of those actions is a step toward Self-Assertiveness and a step toward a more Authentic You.
This is the 4th Pillar from Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s book “The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem.”
Manuela loves helping smart and compassionate professionals create a career and life they love, while feeling more confident and fulfilled! You can visit Manuela’s Website for Career Happiness Coaching.