I’ll never forget the first time I, REALLY asserted myself in a high conflict situation.
My voice and body were shaking. It took every ounce of willpower I had to square up to the combative and disgruntled man in my living room. I looked him in the eye and asked him to leave, now. I had recently taken Prevention Action Change's Empowerment Self Defense Class. I utilized the skills I learned in this class to advocate for what I needed effectively and with purpose.
Before this training and other personal growth, I avoided conflict like the plague. Women avoid conflict, feel guilty asking for what they need, and are more likely to have our boundaries pushed. This takes a toll on us. There are strategies you can develop to tune into what you want and ask for it.
Not every client who we work with at Virago Wellness, a women’s counseling center in Portland, Maine, immediately identifies challenges with being assertive but it almost always comes up.
Even women who are smart, capable, and articulate find themselves backing down or doing something they don’t want. Dating scenarios, salary negotiations, setting boundaries with a family member, confronting a neighbor, even saying where you’d like to go for dinner are all assertiveness challenges we hear about. Developing the ability to identify what you want and ask for it can change your life. Women who develop assertiveness skills are more decisive. They set boundaries better and get what they want without feeling guilty. They navigate conflict.
Assertiveness is a skill we, at Virago Wellness, want to support every woman we work with to develop.
We live in a world that sends us messages daily that we are to put the needs of others before our own and not make a fuss. We can naturally thrive in caretaking roles as well as be caretakers for others. You may have seen other women labeled as bitchy or aggressive for standing up for themselves.
Some women have experienced speaking up for and assertive themselves as dangerous. Going with, rather than against is the faun in the fight, flight, freeze, faint, or faun human reaction system. And very few of us were taught to speak up. This is another skill they should have taught in schools. Thankfully, that’s becoming more commonplace for children to learn now.
No is a full sentence. Full stop.
The first time I heard that no was a full sentence my mind was blown. I, like many women, gave excessive reasons when I set a boundary. This was about the needs of the other person.
Like anything, assertiveness is a skill you can develop with practice and the right information. From higher stake scenarios where you have to square up to and look your aggressor in the eye and clearly and forcefully state your request. To more subtle ways of saying no, such as setting boundaries, changing the subject, and offering alternatives.
Identifying how you feel and what you want is another foundational skill needed for assertiveness. Practice with a friend or complete a workbook on the topic. Read a book, work through this with a therapist, or attend a workshop. Tuesday, February 16th, Virago Wellness is hosting a workshop for women, those who identify as female, and those who have identified as female to learn more about this. Read more here.
There are a myriad of reasons why women struggle to speak up for themselves. And as many ways to reverse the issue. Addressing the root causes of personal challenges with assertiveness frees you up. You can develop skills and learn strategies to handle a range of challenging situations. The improvements you will see are well worth the effort.
Find what works for you to start speaking your mind, today.