Assertiveness can be very difficult. Most of us have grown up during a time in which we are taught to put the needs of others over our own. We are often shown that the happiness of those around us is more important than ours and that we should do whatever it takes to maintain peace in a relationship. For those of us too who are sensitive to the energies of others, assertiveness can feel risky: What if we hurt their feelings? What happens if they don’t like what we say? We often choose the perceived peace of mind of another over our own needs.
Being assertive and establishing healthy personal boundaries took me years to understand and it still challenges me constantly. Historically, it has been hard for me to ask for what I need. It has always seemed easier/safer/calmer to just step back and allow others to do what they needed to do, even when it meant that my needs weren’t being met. I was terrified of being rejected and/or frightened that I might hurt the other person by asking for what felt right for me. Ultimately, though, my passivity meant that I wasn’t taking responsibility for my own feelings; I was instead placing my emotional wellbeing in the hands of others while simultaneously not supplying them with all of the information.
I love this equation that a client’s guides passed on to her through me the other day: nice + assertive = authentic + empowered. I spent a lot of time being nice + passive. What this ultimately engendered was a sense of resentment towards those that I was allowing to overstep boundaries with me. I assumed others should just know how I felt, and I was afraid I would be pushed away if I spoke up and shared my feelings openly and fully. And so time and again, the problem became a snowball that would quickly pick up steam as it rolled down and ever-steepening hill.
Eventually I learned that everybody is responsible for their own emotions. This doesn’t give me or anyone else the right to treat someone poorly, but it does demand of us that we be honest and allow the other person in question the opportunity to respond in the way that is true to them. Assertiveness engenders respect for ourselves and the people in our lives. It asks us to put our needs in a place of importance; it predicates that we be accountable to ourselves and that we suit up and show up in our lives.
It also shows others that we care enough about them to be honest, open and vulnerable with them. We get the opportunity to show the people that we choose to have in our life that we trust them with our essential being. It is a way of being true to all involved and it fosters a connection in which all parties trust their ability to speak up and be heard without shame or fear. When we are able to share of ourselves in this way, we have an opportunity to express ourselves in a manner that is empowering versus cowering in a state of very disempowered martyrdom.
My heart still skips a beat or two when I think about opening so fully to someone in this way, but I know that if I’m not genuine with others, my heart will close off just a little bit more each time. I know that I can’t go back to the darkness that I used to feel when I was too scared to be me. If I am to continue to grow and expand, I must continue to be open and to take risks. I must trust myself and those that are near and dear to me. If they reject me for being me, then I must know that this person is just not a match to who I most am. I have to believe in myself fully and completely and above all else, even when it feels nearly impossible to do so. The fear is very real, but the reward? The reward is empowerment, freedom and the sense of being in true alignment with my soul. It is a knowing as well that the people that are in my life love me with full knowledge of who I am and what I need from them. There are no guessing games or manipulations or walls to maneuver around. It’s just us, two people, connecting heart to heart and soul to soul, and that is truly amazing.