Updated: Feb 8, 2020
1. Start small. Start practicing being assertive with someone safe and with small issues. Maybe tell a friend what you are learning and than practice with that person.
2. Don't say yes right away. If someone asks for a favor, your instinct will be to say yes. Try something like, “Let me get back to you about that.” That can help curb the instinct to say yes without thinking it through.
3. Role Play. It's a great way to practice expressing your wants and needs. Find someone you trust and practice what you want to say and how you to say it. This can feel awkward at first, but you're more likely to follow through with what you want to say if you practice first.
4. Speak out when you want something. A common problem with people that struggle with assertiveness is the belief that others should magically know what you want. People can't know, unless you tell them. Remember asking for your needs to be met does not guarantee anything. But you'll be surprised at how good it feels to speak up for yourself.
5. Use talking points. Don't allow yourself to to be sidetracked when making a request or saying no. Sometimes, people might try and talk you into (or out of) something by going off on tangents. Don't allow yourself to be diverted. Stick to your original request or statement. Think of politicians on a talk show. It really doesn't matter what is asked, they stick to their talking points and refuse to be diverted from them.
6. Don't engage. Some people will be upset when you start setting boundaries. Don't engage, don't defend, don't apologize for your boundaries. Some people are used to telling you how to feel, what to think, what to do.
It drives me crazy when people say, don't be upset/angry. Don't do this. Don't want this. You should do this or that. It's not worth arguing with these people. But apologizing for who you are or agreeing with them is harmful to you. That's when it's useful to say something vague. “I'm sorry you feel that way.” You're not apologizing for you. You're not agreeing with them. But you're not engaging in a useless argument.
7. Use 'I' statements. I'm almost embarrassed to mention this one, because it seems like a cliché. But it's a cliché for a reason. It's useful. Try saying 'I feel' or 'I need' or 'I want' when expressing your views. This helps to state your point of view without the other person becoming defensive. Remember, this doesn't mean that the other person has to agree with you or do what you want. It's about finding your voice and expressing yourself instead of letting other people bulldoze over you.
8. It will take time for people to adjust to the new you. Learning to be assertive might be difficult for some people around you. Remember, they are used to getting their way. It might upset some people when you start speaking up for yourself. You are not responsible for their reactions. You are not responsible for 'fixing' anyone else. Most people will adjust to the 'new you.' You'll also find yourself developing new relationships with people who are not trying to take advantage of you.
9. Progress not perfection! It's okay if you aren't assertive all the time. This is a learning process so if you find yourself saying yes when you don't want to. Or if you don't speak up for yourself from time to time, it's okay. You get to learn from your mistakes. Maybe replay the experience with a friend and practice how you could have handled things differently. You'll get better with practice!
10. No is a complete sentence. This is another cliche and it goes hand in hand with don't engage but it needs to be said. You don't have to apologize, explain, defend your boundaries. No is a complete sentence.
Learning to be assertive is hard! But it's one of the most powerful coping skills out there. If you can say no when you need to, your anxiety will decrease. Think of how stressful it is to always be at the mercy of everyone around you. Think of how amazing it would feel to choose for yourself rather than have everyone else choose for you.
Assertiveness also helps decrease depression. Every time you don't speak up for yourself, you give away a little piece of your soul. This leads to depression. It's easier to stay in bed, to stay numb when the world is telling you how to think, act, feel.
Being assertive vital to trauma survivors. Abuse is the ultimate powerlessness. You couldn't speak for yourself back than. You couldn't protect yourself. But you can find your voice. You can learn to speak up for yourself. You can begin to feel safe again. That is such a large step in healing from trauma.
Finally, if you really struggle with not being assertive. If you just can't find a way to speak up. If lacking boundaries leads to anxiety and/or depression. Seek professional help. Sometimes we need someone removed from the situation to help us learn to do things differently.
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