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Why we need to be Assertive

So what is assertiveness ? What does being assertive entail ? It's about being able to express yourself with confidence without having to resort to passive, aggressive or manipulative behavior. It involves greater self-awareness; getting to know, like and be in charge of the real 'you' It requires listening and responding to the needs of others without neglecting your own interests or compromising your principles. It is abut improving your interpersonal skills; more effective communication; controlling stress through a better handling of problem people and situations. It is about choice - being able to express your needs, opinions or feelings, confident that you will not be dominated, exploited or coerced against your wishes.

Assertiveness is about effective communication and this does not just mean choosing the right words to say in a given situation. Tone of voice, intonation, volume, facial expression, gesture and body language all play a part in the message you are sending to the other person, and unless all parts of the equation match, you will be sending a garbled message. Generally, if you are putting yourself or the other person down in some way, your communication style is not assertive. Although there will be times when you choose to be passive, or use more aggressive 'muscle', an assertive response is invariably the preferable one, and leads to win/win situations where both parties feel good about themselves. Assertive skills can be learnt, and later chapters explore the various approaches and techniques which can be applied. Conditioning When you first entered this world, and until you were about six months old, you knew and demonstrated two forms of behavior : passive, dependent behavior and aggressive, demanding behavior. As you grew older, one of the first words you will have learnt and uttered is 'No' This is a way of saying, 'I can now begin to rationalize, to make my own decisions.' It is a way of beginning to establish independence as a unique individual. For toddlers, being passive sometimes, aggressive at others, freely expressing feelings, and saying 'No' without guilt or malice, is spontaneous and natural. Were you reprimanded for saying 'No' as a small child? Were you told it was not polite …. Might hurt others' feelings …. Make you unpopular ? Might this have a bearing on why you might find it difficult to utter the 'No' word today ? Passive and aggressive behaviors come naturally to us and often seem the easy ( though seldom the most effective) option, whereas assertive behavior requires a cognitive process rather than a gut reaction. It is learnt - we were not born assertive. Depending on our own mood, the situation, the people involved and so on, we frequently respond somewhere along the spectrum of passive - through - aggressive without considering the assertive option which recognizes the needs, feelings and opinions of both you and the other person. Conditioning plays a large part in the way you act and react as an adult. Role expectations come into this too. We may have mentally ingested that it is unladylike to express anger, or that it is a sign of weakness to cry in public, or that men should be aggressively ambitious, enjoy physical contact sports and so on. Subtle conditioning has colored the way we see ourselves and others, but the good news is that conditioning has not fixed your personality for ever. You are constantly developing and changing. Things learnt can be unlearnt, alternative behaviors can be rehearsed and practiced until they become second nature. "You're so caught up in this need for being liked that you sacrifice your own self- respect. You could at least learn to handle put-downs in a way that makes you respect yourself. I have learned to say no to unreasonable requests.

You Can Learn to be Normal - Not Neurotic The world contains many people who don't recognize their own strengths or who have learned to act in inferior ways because they believe themselves to be inferior. They find it impossible to express emotions like anger or tenderness; sometimes they don't even feel them. In psychological terms, we say these people have Inhibitory Personalities. They have a thousand reasons for not acting, ten thousand reasons to fend off closeness. Low on self-sufficiency, they live their lives by the rules and whims of others. They do not know who they are, what they feel, what they want. In contrast, people with Excitatory Personalities do not fear their feelings. Frightened neither of closeness nor combat, they act out of strength. The excitatory man knows who he is, what he wants. He is assertive. You can find the answers to your problems in a new scientific technique known as Assertiveness Training, through which by changing your actions, you change your attitudes and feelings about yourself. Assertiveness Training (which from now on we will call AT) takes as a premise: you have learned unsatisfactory forms of behavior, which have made you an unhappy, inhibited person, fearful of rejections, close relations and standing up to others. Just as you have trained yourself to be neurotic you can teach yourself to be normal.

BEHAVIOR THERAPY AND ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING Psychoanalytically oriented therapists say it is who you are in the unconscious that influences what you do. Your behavior merely reflects your unconscious. BT reversed this traditional stand. While psychoanalysis asks, "Why are you this way?" BT queries, "What can we do to change you now?" BT is not in direct conflict with Freud, Jung, or Horney. It maintains that the past is irrelevant to changing people and holds that people need not be passive and helpless in the face of cosmic unconsciousness.

THE ASSERTIVE PERSONALITY According to Webster's Third International Dictionary, the verb "assert" means "to state or affirm positively, assuredly, plainly, or strongly." In therapeutic terms, this provides only a limited explanation. He feels free to reveal himself. Through words and actions he makes the statement. "This is me. This is what I feel, think and want." He can communicate with people on all levels - with strangers, friends, family. This communication is always open, direct, honest, and appropriate. He has an active orientation to life. He goes after what he wants. In contrast to the passive person who waits for things to happen, he attempts to make things happen. He acts in a way he himself respects. Aware that he cannot always win, he accepts his limitations. Inappropriate learning may interfere with appropriate assertion. You become conditioned to certain fears. These may be social fears, like the fear or being disliked or rejected. For example, a sixteen-year-old girl, with a temporary case of acne, lacks partners at a high school dance. At seventeen, her complexion clear, she goes off to college, but the pain of the wallflower incident affects her whole life. She remains aloof from any close experience should something like it happen again. Appropriate behavior choice Before moving onto look at various aspects of assertiveness training, it should be stressed that passive and aggressive behaviors are not necessarily bad. They can both be appropriate at times - righteous indignation at social injustices, for example. The assertive option might not always be the best behavior choice.

To test how effective your present behavior is, try the following :- Prepare to assert yourself In the same way that it is impossible to become assertive just by reading a book on the subject - you have to practice assertion skills - it is also impossible to appear assertive with the tensed muscles and pounding heart associated with stress. Your body language will give you away. Whatever words you choose to say, however 'assertive' they might be, if delivered with the wrong tone of choice, too much or too little volume, or accompanied by inappropriate facial expression and posture, your assertiveness will be ineffective. You will be perceived as apprehensive, emotional, hostile or aggressive by the other person. Tension control Here we will look at what I consider to be an essential precursor to assertiveness training; tension control. However good you become at mastering the theory of assertiveness, if anxiety produces observable signs of your apprehension, this will convey itself to the other person - even at a subconscious level - and communication will suffer as a result. There are a number of coping strategies. For example, you could have a stiff drink before an important encounter, go into a meditative trance, or practice deep-breathing exercises. However, unless you carry a hip flask, a stiff drink is seldom available just when you need one (and it's bad for your health) Transcendental meditation can be difficult to achieve in a crowded department store, and deep breathing is impossible with stomach muscles in a knot. For these reasons, I suggest you try these alternative methods. The beauty of them is that they can be practiced at any time, anywhere, at short notice. They are an unobtrusive and effective way to control nervousness and reduce negative feelings such as anger and stress. Exercise do complete PMR Clench everything you can as tightly as you can : toes and feet, buttocks, leg and arm muscles, fists and, if no one is looking, screw up your face as well. Hold for a second or two, then quickly release all the tension from the muscles. Go as limp as you can or your environment will allow! Repeat it if you can. You should now be able to take one or two deep breaths and be ready to take on the world. Inner calm Be kind to yourself and allow a few minutes each day to relax your body by whatever method you are comfortable with. Listen to calming music; meditate; soak in a hot bath - or do all three simultaneously ! When your body is at ease, imagine yourself in a place of beauty and calm, where you feel peace with the world. Positive thinking

Assertiveness training has been around for a good many years now and has had a checkered press, some seeing it as training in how to get your own way - which it isn't how to become as aggressive as the next person - which it isn't or training for the wimps of this world on how to say 'boo' to geese ! Assertiveness training can be of immense benefit as a means of self-development. People with good assertiveness skills will also have enhanced self-awareness, greater confidence and self-esteem, and honest, powerful and effective communication skills. They will have respect for themselves and for others. |Central to all this is positive thinking. Assertive people have a positive self-image; they will use positive language; they will look for positive outcomes to interactions; they will work with the other person to provide positive solutions to problems by which both sides 'win'.

Author : Prof.Lakshman Madurasinghe

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