Do you often find that you agree to things you don’t really want to do, or feel as though other people are making you do things? Perhaps you tell yourself that it is easier to let other people have their way, to keep the peace or to not rock the boat? Maybe you believe that other people know better than you, and that it is only right that they run the show?
If any of the above sounds like you, then you could really improve your health and happiness by simply being able to be more assertive.
Are you a People Pleaser?
When a client tells me that they have a partner or a family member that always gets their own way, or bosses them around, it is often the case that we start to discover that the client themselves is a ‘people pleaser’. This type of person is someone who always puts others first, and lets others decide things for them. They often find it extremely difficult, perhaps even physically impossible, to say no to other people. This can leave them stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, as they have taken on too much by giving in to other people’s demands. When we put other people first all of the time, we also often neglect ourselves and our own needs.
What’s Wrong With Putting Other People First?
Many of us have been brought up to think of other people before ourselves, and have been told that this is the right thing to do. We have also been taught as children that we are ‘good’ if we do what other people tell us to do, such as parents and teachers. However, as adults we need to be able to make our own decisions, have our own opinions, and to stand up for ourselves. We also need to know when it is right to look after ourselves and this might mean that we don’t always say yes to every request for help or attention from others.
If we constantly put others first, we can miss important needs of our own that should be met, and so make ourselves ill either physically or emotionally. We might find that we have increased stress and anxiety as we experience the conflict between what we want to do or to be like, and the way that we are acting to please others instead. We can end up feeling resentful, and bottling up negative feelings towards others, leading us to be angry or irritable, or extremely self-critical. This kind of stress can lead us to shy away from people or become disconnected, as we try to protect ourselves from the demands of others.
Essentially, we are keeping ourselves passive and small, telling ourselves that we are not as important as other people. This neglect of our self is just as harmful as neglect of any other person we might be responsible for.
I’m Worried About Being Selfish
I often find that clients in this kind of position will tell me they are worried that if they start standing up for themselves they are being selfish. Many of us have been told as children or in the past that being selfish is a terrible thing, and it has very strong negative connections for us. However, becoming more assertive is NOT the same as becoming selfish.
Assertiveness is about balance – balancing the needs of others with the needs of ourselves. We hear what other people want, we consider what we want, and we decide what to do for the best. It is simply about making up our minds, knowing our own opinions, and knowing that we can accept ourselves at the same time as being considerate of other people. It is often about compromise, and coming up with an option that works for all parties.
So How Do I Start to Be More Assertive?
First of all, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. We cannot blame people for taking advantage of us if we have never voiced our own opinions and needs. Although this can be daunting at first, taking very small steps can often have a big impact. As soon as we start to change how we act with others then others have to react differently to us.
Here are my top tips for being more assertive:
- Believe in yourself! Instead of thinking ‘Who am I to be asking for what I want?’, try thinking ‘Who am I NOT to be?’. We are all equal, we all deserve to be heard and that includes you.
- Just Say No! Start to listen to yourself, know your limits, be aware of what you want, what you think and what your capacity is. This will help you to explain why you need to say no to a request, and be clear. Look for a compromise, by all means, and let people know other options that might work better for you.
- Practice. If you are worried about how to handle a certain person or situation, think about it beforehand by practising stating your own reasons, opinions or situation. The more you voice your own thoughts out loud when you are outside the situation, the easier it will be to say them to other people.
- Keep it up! Being assertive is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger you will get. Every small step you take will increase your confidence and boost your self-esteem.
If this feels like a big step, counselling can help you to understand what drives you to put others first and to start to explore how you can improve your self-worth. By talking with a professional you can understand how to start listening to your own needs and make positive changes in your relationships at home and at work.