Being Assertive Without Guilt

by Emma Burke

I often find myself struggling with how to assert my own opinions, ideas, beliefs, and needs without feeling bossy, rude, or as if I am oversharing. For me, this often stems from my desire to make people happy and to have people like me. These are natural desires that many of us have, however when this need begins interfering with our own self advocacy, it can become unhealthy.

A clinical Psychology professor at UCLA, Gary Emery states that “We all want people to think we’re nice, but millions of people carry it too far. Every moment of their day is spent being nice — and the damage it does them is enormous!” (positive Experts such as Emery have often attributed the overwhelming need to be ‘too nice’ as a possibly gateway to harmful frustration, depression, anxiety, and anger.

So if we know that foregoing assertiveness and making our own needs secondary, in order to be more likable can lead to harm, what steps can we take to be more assertive in our daily lives? Below are some small steps that I have begun incorporating in my life in small ways:

  1. Trusting Myself: It all begins by building a platform of trust for yourself, which you can fall back on in situations where you are nervous or unsure. Oftentimes, in the moment I will second guess myself and wonder if I am being too mean, too harsh, or letting someone down. This is when I really need to trust myself, and remember that if I feel a reason to say no, it is most likely valid.
  2. Identify my Needs and Wants Ahead of Time: Whether you’re moving in with new housemates, starting a new job, or pursuing a new relationship, it can be very helpful to have a conversation about what you need and want. If you are able to do this right off the bat, it can help you avoid the development of unrealistic expectations. Most of my guilt usually comes from saying no and letting people down, however by letting people know about what I can/can’t do ahead of time, and what I want, I can avoid the tension of trying to correct people later on. Furthermore, if you’re experiencing problems in an ongoing relationship or situation, you can always sit down and have a conversation. Setting aside time to talk about this and trying to set things straight moving forward will be helpful as well.
  3. Think About how I Would Feel if Things Were Reversed: It’s often helpful to think about how you would feel if you were the one being told no. How much would that really upset you? Because chances are you are treating them with more consideration than you treat yourself. When I’m feeling particularly nervous about standing up for myself or telling someone no, it really helps to ask myself, “If your friend was feeling like this, wouldn’t you rather they tell you?” and the answer is almost always “yes”.

If you feel like your lack of assertiveness may be an issue for you in your life, try incorporating some of these things into your daily life. However, it’s also a good idea to think about any underlying issues that may be a part of your lack of assertiveness. If you feel like it’s a bigger problem or causing bigger problems in your life, CAPS is always here to help with many resources such as 1:1 counseling, groups, workshops, and more. Check out all of our resources here.