"When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself." - Paulo Coelho

We've all been there - A friend asks you for a favor, one that, deep down, you genuinely don’t have the bandwidth for. Your inner voice is pleading, "Say no, I can't take on any more!" Yet, out comes, "Of course! Happy to help." Before you know it, your plate is overflowing, and that subtle sting of resentment begins to bubble up inside.

Allow me to guide you through the art of assertiveness, a crucial skill frequently overlooked, particularly among women. Many of us sideline their own needs in an effort to maintain harmony or to meet societal expectations. If you've ever found yourself repeatedly saying 'yes' when you truly mean 'no,' or felt that your voice consistently goes unheard, this article is for you.

What is Assertiveness?

At its core, assertiveness is the ability to express one's feelings, beliefs, and needs directly, openly, and honestly, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others. It's a fine balance between the extremes of passive behavior (where one doesn't express their true feelings or needs) and aggressive behavior (where one might dominate or disrespect others to have their own needs met).

Imagine assertiveness as the middle ground, a bridge that marries self-respect with respect for others. It's about valuing and expressing our own needs, without trampling over the needs of those around us.

It's essential to recognize that assertiveness doesn't guarantee you'll alwayss get what you want. Instead, assertiveness ensures you clearly convey your needs and wants. There's a gentle power in clear, confident communication. It shifts the dynamics of personal and professional relationships, carving a space where mutual understanding can flourish.

Why is Assertiveness Important?

1. For Personal Well-being:

Our emotional and mental well-being is deeply tied to the way we interact with the world. When we constantly suppress our feelings or deny our needs, we may experience feelings of dissatisfaction, stress, and even depression. By practicing assertiveness, we are recognizing and validating our emotions. This enhances our self-esteem and brings a genuine authenticity to our everyday interactions.

2. For Relationships:

Healthy relationships require clear communication. When we're assertive, we open doors to mutal understanding and respect. Assertiveness fosters understanding and mutual respect, and helps establish clear boundaries, preventing feelings of being overlooked or misunderstood. Remember, it's not just about getting our point across; it's about creating a two-way street of open dialogue.

3. For Professional Growth:

In the workplace, assertiveness plays a pivotal role. Whether it's negotiating a salary, voicing an innovative idea, or setting boundaries to prevent burnout, assertive communication ensures you're seen, heard, and valued. It's the backbone of professional empowerment.

The People-Pleaser Challenge

Our culture, historically and even now, often rewards women for being accommodating, nurturing, and, to some extent, self-sacrificing. While these qualities can be valuable in certain contexts, the issue emerges when societal expectations relegate women's needs to the background, making their voices secondary.

We all know the familiar refrain: "Be a good girl," "Don't rock the boat," "You'd be prettier if you smiled," "Don't be bossy,"or "It's not ladylike to be too forward." Over time, these messages, subtle or overt, become deeply ingrained, pushing us to prioritize the comfort and happiness of others over our own. This is the realm of the chronic people-pleaser, where the fear of displeasing others or potential conflict eclipses our personal needs. In extreme cases, we may lose sight of our own preferences and needs altogether, becoming a supporting character in the lives of those around us.

Yet, this path often leads to emotional exhaustion, feelings of being undervalued, seething resentment and, in extreme cases, burnout. The intent behind this isn't to undermine the value of kindness or the joy of helping others.

Cultural and Societal Pressures:

From childhood fairytales to modern media, women often encounter a consistent narrative: to be self-sacrificial, endlessly accommodating, and put others’ needs before their own. These societal norms, while seemingly innocuous, cultivate an environment where women feel the need to constantly appease, often at the expense of their desires or well-being.

In various cultures across the globe, this narrative amplifies. Women are seen as the caregivers, the nurturers, the "peacekeepers." While these roles are undoubtedly valuable, the pressure to constantly conform to them can stifle a woman's ability to be assertive, leading her down the path of perennial people-pleasing.

The Pitfalls of Excessive People-Pleasing:

While the intention behind people-pleasing is often rooted in kindness, love, or the desire to avoid conflict, there are several pitfalls to this approach:

1. Emotional Exhaustion:

Continually sidelining one's own needs or feelings can lead to suppressed emotions, which over time can result in emotional fatigue.

2. Resentment:

When personal boundaries are consistently overstepped or one's own needs are continually overlooked, it's natural to harbor feelings of resentment, even towards loved ones.

3. Feeling Undervalued:

Constant people-pleasing can create a dynamic where others begin to expect and take for granted this level of acquiescence, leading to feelings of being underappreciated.

4. Potential Burnout:

When trying to be everything for everyone, without time or space for personal rejuvenation, burnout is a likely outcome.

Genuine Kindness vs. Fear-driven People-Pleasing:

It's crucial to differentiate between acts of genuine kindness and people-pleasing that springs from a place of fear or perceived obligation. Authentic kindness is an expression of love, compassion, or understanding. It's a gesture made without the expectation of reciprocity or acknowledgment.

On the other hand, people-pleasing rooted in fear might manifest as a reluctance to speak one's truth due to a dread of confrontation, criticism, or the desire to be perpetually liked. It's this latter form that can be detrimental to one's mental and emotional well-being.

In essence, while genuine kindness uplifts and enriches both the giver and the receiver, habitual people-pleasing, driven by fear or societal expectations, can slowly erode one's sense of self-worth and identity.

Navigating the maze of societal expectations and personal truths can be challenging. Yet, by recognizing the patterns and understanding the underlying motivations, one can embark on a journey of self-awareness, leading to healthier interpersonal dynamics and personal fulfillment.

Practical Assertiveness Skills to Implement

Navigating the world as a genuinely assertive individual can be transformative. The weight of unexpressed feelings, swallowed words, and suppressed desires can be heavy. Let's explore some practical tools and techniques to foster assertiveness, allowing you to step into a space of genuine self-expression and empowerment.

1. Self-awareness and Reflection:

Becoming assertive starts with recognizing moments when you've stifled your voice. Think of times when you nodded in agreement, not because you agreed, but to avoid tension. Reflect on the sensation of discomfort, the internal tug-of-war.

A wonderful way to foster this awareness is through journaling. Dedicate a few minutes each day to jot down situations where you felt that internal nudge to speak up but hesitated. Alongside, explore mindfulness exercises. As you breathe deeply and focus on the present, you'll become attuned to your genuine feelings and needs.

2. Clear Communication:

The essence of assertiveness is rooted in clarity. Employing 'I' statements can be immensely beneficial. Instead of "You always interrupt me," opt for "I feel overlooked when I'm interrupted because I want my voice to be heard." By expressing from a place of feeling rather than blame, you pave the way for understanding and compassion.

3. "No" is a Complete Sentence:

There's immense power in setting boundaries. Remember, every time you say "yes" out of obligation, you might be saying "no" to something you genuinely value. Practice saying "no" without following it with a string of justifications. It might feel uncomfortable initially, but with time, it becomes liberating.

4. Broken Record Technique:

Imagine being pressed repeatedly for a favor you're uncomfortable with. Instead of bending or coming up with varied reasons, maintain your stance with calm repetition: "I understand you need help, but I can't assist this weekend." If pressed again, repeat. The consistency conveys conviction without escalating tension.

5. Fogging:

Fogging is an art of agreeing with potential truths in another's statement without becoming defensive. If someone claims, "You're so secretive," instead of lashing out or justifying, respond calmly with, "You're right, sometimes I can be reserved about my personal life." This diffuses potential conflict and acknowledges the other's viewpoint without sacrificing your stance.

6. Body Language:

Assertiveness isn't just verbal. How you carry yourself speaks volumes. Maintain steady eye contact, signaling confidence and engagement. Adopt a posture that's upright yet relaxed, neither domineering nor submissive. Let your body echo the strength of your words.

7. Role-playing:

Finally, remember, practice makes perfect. Before confronting challenging situations, consider role-playing with a trusted friend. This offers a safe environment to try out your assertiveness skills, gather feedback, and refine your approach. It's like a dress rehearsal before the main event.

Stepping into assertiveness might feel like uncharted territory, but with persistence, reflection, and practice, it becomes second nature. The beauty of this journey is not just in finding your voice, but in the harmony and genuine connections that arise when communication is sincere and heartfelt.

Final Thoughts

Assertiveness, dear readers, is not just about speaking up. It's about tuning into the genuine rhythm of your heart, understanding your desires, setting boundaries, and communicating with authenticity. Especially for women, embracing assertiveness is more than just a skill; it's a path to mental well-being, flourishing relationships, and soaring professional heights.

From my chair as a psychotherapist, I've witnessed countless women grappling with the tightrope walk between societal expectations and personal aspirations. I've seen the weight of suppressed voices and the lightness that follows once those voices are set free. I understand the journey, the challenges that rear their heads, but also the exhilarating freedom and growth that bloom from embracing one's true voice.

Before you leave this page, I'd like you to pause. Think of one area in your life where you can practice a small act of assertiveness. Maybe it's telling your partner how you genuinely feel or perhaps setting a boundary at work. Whatever it is, take that step and observe the shift. The path to profound personal transformation often starts with such small, intentional steps.

Additional Resources

For those hungry for more, seeking to delve even deeper into the beautiful journey of assertiveness, here are some resources I'd highly recommend:

1. "Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself" by Nedra Glover Tawwabb

2. "The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships" by Randy J. Paterson

3. "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty" by Manuel J. Smith

If today's exploration resonated with you and you're craving a guided journey, consider reaching out. Let's craft a space where your voice not only finds its resonance but sings with undeterred confidence. If you're ready to embark on this transformative journey, I welcome you to book an appointment. With just one simple click, we'll begin your path towards a more confident and empowered you."

Remember, your voice matters. It's time to let it be heard, loud and clear.