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If you experience social anxiety it is likely at least one person has told you, “You need to be more assertive.” Many of us with social anxiety come to believe this is true.
What is true is that assertiveness is a communication skill that can be practiced and improved, and doing so can lessen social anxiety.
Being fearful of self-assertion leaves us with the unpleasant mental and emotional side effects of:
While being unassertive might have been an advantage at an early stage in our life, it generally causes emotional discomfort and mental anguish as we grow into adulthood. Increasing our powers of self-expression can relieve the distress.
However, there is no ideal level of assertiveness anyone should achieve. We each need to discover a level of outspokenness that works for us, a personal balance of self-assertion and agreeableness.
Although you may never become entirely comfortable being assertive, there are times when each of us is better off being able to:
You do not have to enjoy assertiveness to be assertive, but you must sometimes be assertive to enjoy a sense of self and feel powerful in our world. It is always okay to choose not to be assertive, but first you must give yourself that option.
If you are sure that a bolt of lightening will strike you down should you express anger, an achievement, or an opinion, it is likely you will need individual or group counseling to gain assertiveness. It is one thing to learn a skill, but another to get up the nerve to practice it. A counselor or group you have learned to trust makes an ideal place to try the skill out.
Another idea is asking a good friend not to let you get away with saying, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” when it is time to pick a movie, a restaurant, or express an opinion. Make a deal with them. When they turn to you and ask, “What do you think?” you are bound to give a specific answer, even when with a group a people.
You can also enhance your sense of self by sharing your likes and dislikes. Your preferences matter in relationships. If you have difficulty realizing what you like and dislike, start by expressing to yourself whether you like something (e.g., a food, a picture, a book). Eventually, share your preferences with others.
Photo credit: Bobbi Miller-Moro (@flickr)
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