“I hate confrontation.”
That is what I hear at least once a day in my therapy practice. And it is usually from women. I wish I could give every woman who thinks this a short lesson on assertiveness, which is often what they mistake for confrontation or conflict. It does not mean you must alter a quiet demeanor, become bold and brassy, or the even worse expression— “a real ball breaker.” Why is assertiveness important? First you have to understand what assertiveness actually means.
This is what you get when you look on the web:
Being assertive means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others.
A person communicates assertively by overcoming fear of speaking his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others.
Assertive Behavior enables a person to act in his own best interests, to stand up for himself without undue anxiety, to express his honest feeling comfortably, or to exercise his own rights without denying the rights of others.”
My version is this: Being assertive simply means you are able to clearly, and confidently, state your needs without stomping on the rights of others.
But what most people don’t understand is how you get there. That is what I am going to share now.
Expectations: Self Differentiation
Self differentiation is a fancy way to say that you are clear on your own needs, likes, wants, desires as well as the opposite—what you don’t like, need, want or desire. And the concept of self differentiation has three parts. These steps clarify why assertiveness is important.
Step 1. Is what I just stated—
“that you are clear on your own needs, likes, wants, desires as well as the opposite—what you don’t like, need, want or desire.” You must become aware of your own expectations. Often, people are not even aware of what their expectations are. All they know is they sometimes feel resentful toward their partner or friend.
If this happens to you, dig deeper and you may find that your partner violated one of your expectations. For instance, when it comes to planning your weekend, you may expect your partner to watch a movie or help you clean out the garage. When they then spend the weekend doing other things, you may find yourself feeling resentful.
Step 2. You must be able to clearly state your needs or wants to your partner or friend and then be able to manage your emotions if they say something back to you that feels threatening. You may not like their response, but you don’t have to be responsible for how they respond, only how you take it in, and what meaning you make of it. In other words, managing your emotions in that moment successfully. Stating your needs, wants or desires is not a violation of theirs; they have the right to say no, or perhaps offer an alternative you might consider.
Step 3. is exactly the opposite of Part 2, and also essential. You must be able to hold steady (manage your emotions) when your partner or friend tells you what they want, desire, or need without over-reacting, or making a meaning of what they are saying that may not be true. This means listening with genuine curiosity, and perhaps listening to what may be underneath what they are outwardly expressing. Sometimes this is a longing, or a need for connection, or most often, a fear of disconnection from you.
That tug of discomfort you feel is, at its base, your fear of disconnection from someone you care about.-Page Rutledge, LCSW
Depending on your expectations and what you know of theirs, this can be scary. That tug of discomfort you feel is at its base, your fear of disconnection from someone you care about. That is why this work requires courage and it gets easier with practice—I promise. In our example, it might look like this.
Once you are aware of your expectations relating to a specific event, verbalize them to your friend or partner. Ask them to do the same. While you may, for instance, assume that you will watch a movie together, your partner may have the expectation of having time to meditate and catch up with friends on the weekend. Depending on what your expectation is, verbalizing it can be scary. It takes courage. Sometimes expressing an expectation of ours can make us feel vulnerable and tender because the other person could say no. Still, taking emotional risks of this nature can both lead to deeper intimacy and to getting your needs met. Once you do this, make an express agreement relating to the plans. In our example, you could both agree to set aside time for cleaning or the movie, as well as making time for individual pursuits.
In the words of Carl Jung: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” You cannot achieve this without understanding and practicing assertiveness and achieving self differentiation. And remember–you don’t have to be a b*tch to achieve this!
So have courage, and start today. If you need help with this, contact me here. Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned, and I can help you do just that.
P.S. You can schedule online by scrolling to the bottom on the homepage and pressing the blue button. Select new client if it is your first time. Existing clients may simply select “existing.”