Assertiveness: Debunking 3 Common Myths

Assertiveness is a term that usually brings up either positive or negative thoughts and emotions. Because assertiveness is expressed in a social context, it is natural to have varying personal experiences and associations with it.

For some people, it is something they believe that they lack and should obtain more of. And for others, it is something abstract that they have feared, struggled with, or shied away from. 

When you think about your own upbringing and life’s experiences, were you encouraged to speak up, express your needs and wants?

Or did you receive direct or indirect messages that you should stay quiet, out of the way, and compliant? Your answer can help you begin to explore and understand your own relationship with assertiveness.

Depending on your prior experiences, you may decide that there is value in using assertiveness skills in your daily life. More often than not, people are aware that there are benefits for speaking up and letting their thoughts and desires known.

For example, it greatly increases the chances of getting your personal needs met. However, using skills of assertiveness does not come easily to everyone.

If you struggle with letting people know how you truly feel and getting your needs met, pause for a minute. Ask yourself, what is getting in the way? Is there an element of fear or anxiety present?

Are you often met with hostility or anger when you practice skills of assertiveness? Do you choose people pleasing as a neutralizer when dealing with awkward conflicts rather than asserting yourself. 

If so, you are not alone. Fear and anxiety are very common. Equally as common are the negative beliefs we have around expressing ourselves. Assertiveness skills are particularly difficult for people with social anxiety and therapy for social anxiety can offer support.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Many barriers exist to using our voices and sharing our emotions. Misconceptions about being seen by others in an unfavorable way turns people off to applying this very important skill. Another is having several negative beliefs about what assertiveness is and what it is not. 

Exploring frequently believed myths about assertiveness can help to reduce the mystery and fear. Below are 3 common myths that keep people from using assertiveness skills in their lives:

Myth 1: If I’m honest, no one will want to be around me. I will be alone.

A common misbelief is that sharing honest opinions will lead to rejection. This thought seems very real and can trigger a threat response that leads to anxiety. The anxiety may lead you to reconsider expressing your needs and increases the chance of them not being met. 

Feelings of belonging and connectedness are important needs of all humans. As social beings, we spend a large amount of time trying to build and maintain relationships. Whether it be our significant others and family members, friends, coworkers, or members in our community. We desire to be liked and accepted by them. It is helpful to think about how your words will come across to another person before you say it. 

However, the belief that you cannot be honest without experiencing a negative social consequence is something to evaluate. Is this really true? And to what extent? Does this happen every time or only in certain situations or with specific people? 

Despite the situation, it is certainly scary to think that being honest leaves you lonely and desolate. Who wants to see themselves rejected and alone? Of course you will want to protect yourself from this! 

The truth is that people feel most connected to you when you are honest and share your true feelings. When you leave things out, you risk people getting to know a less authentic version of who you really are. 

Believe that you are good enough and worthy enough to get to know. Your voice and opinions matter. Those whose company you want to keep will respect your needs and be interested when you express yourself.

Being assertive promotes the possibility for deeper and solid connections. Allow others to get to know more about how to care for you and give you what you need. 

Myth 2: People Will Think I’m Rude or Aggressive

Many people avoid being assertive when the relationship to the term assertiveness has been negative. For example, associating assertiveness to harshness, anger, and being inconsiderate, overbearing or bossy can stir up a lot. Just reading those words can bring up negative feelings.

As noted before, feeling liked and accepted is a human need. A sense of belonging preserves our connection to other people. The last thing we want is to be judged by people important to us as aggressive, demanding or rude. It would be a direct threat to our public persona and need to feel included by our social network. 

When the fear of being judged negatively comes up for you, are you knowing where it stems from? Have your previous attempts to express your needs been dismissed? 

This sometimes results in believing that we need to raise our voice or show intense behaviors to be heard. However, there is fear of being viewed as too emotional, out of control, and too harsh.

Or the opposite happens in which we let difficult experiences pass on by without addressing them. We let others believe that we are fine in order to avoid creating a rift in the relationship. Neither option is easy and can lead to shying away from using skills of assertiveness when necessary.

It is true that saying something when we are emotionally charged will have an impact. We know that tone, volume, and inflection matter in communication. Using assertiveness doesn’t mean to get loud or to step all over other people. It also doesn’t involve being aggressive or dismissive of the people you are talking to. 

Assertiveness simply means that you communicate your thoughts clearly and with assurance so that others can understand you. Being specific and clear can reduce the potential for misunderstandings and conflicts.

Myth 3: My Needs Don’t Matter; No One Will Care

This belief is often based on difficult past experiences with others or negative beliefs about ourselves. Interpersonal relationships are complicated and are not always rewarding or easy to navigate. Sometimes it hard to consistently trust that someone will care about your needs. Especially when you have faced a pattern of disappointments. 

Moreover,  losing confidence in others’ ability to deliver what we need makes it less likely for us to expect it. If you believe that the people around you do not care about your wellbeing, it is wise to evaluate. There are many reasons why this could be happening.

Some people find that they have never practiced asserting themselves in relationships. This could be due to not really knowing what they want or not knowing how to ask. It creates a dynamic in a relationship where the other person becomes accustomed to always being the assertive one. It is possible they care but are unsure about your preferences and by default go along with theirs.

In other cases, you may believe you are expressing yourself clearly, but the receiver of the communication is still confused. They want to deliver but they are the ones that lack understanding on how to get you what you want. Increasing and improving communication rather than decreasing communication can often be helpful in these situations.

Lastly, there are instances when we surround ourselves with the wrong crowd. This is part of growth and development. We learn as we go and don’t always get it right. It is possible to move on from stale relationships and find people that will value you for who you are. 

Resist the tendency to shy away from expressing yourself and being alone. There are good people that do and will care about you. Find them. 

What is Assertiveness?

We’ve been talking about and eluding to what it is and what it is not. Common myths and misconceptions make assertiveness out to be a bad thing.

In reality, it can do so much for you and bring benefits including reduced stress, better connection and increased fulfillment in relationships. It can help you receive positive attention and get your needs met in a healthy way. 

In definition, assertiveness means to communicate what you want and need in a clear communication style. It involves being straightforward, honest and leaves little room for doubt and confusion to occur. Your message is clear to the person on the receiving end of your comments.

Furthermore, assertiveness is a skill that involves ongoing learning and practice. Even if you don’t currently feel comfortable asserting yourself today, you can practice and build up your confidence in the future.

woman sitting down and practicing skills of assertiveness

For more help on learning assertiveness skills and working through the anxiety that stands in the way, call The Counseling Perch Mental Health Counseling, P.C.

Begin Counseling with a Therapist in Rockland County, NY

The Counseling Perch Mental Health Counseling, P.C. offers therapy to residents in New City, NY and all over Rockland County, Westchester County, and New York State via online video platform. Call 845-305-5322 to schedule an appointment.

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