I have met with many clients over the years that have struggled with discomfort around speaking up for themselves.
They have had difficulty with self-advocacy (i.e. asking to be considered for a promotion or pay increase at work), boundary setting (i.e. feeling able to say no to any requests made by family members or friends) or sharing their opinions (i.e. weighing in on what movie to watch or joining in on a conversation that could potentially result in a disagreement). Their neutrality and compliance have probably served them quite well in the past, however this “survival technique” tends to backfire on them in their adult lives, as they deprive themselves of opportunities to succeed in getting their own needs met.
The development of passivity can usually be traced back to childhood experiences where it probably served to foster feelings of security. On the most basic level, children are driven by a need to be cared for and accepted. If they learn to associate being “the nice one”, “the easy one” or “the quiet one who never causes any trouble” with love and security, these roles will be played out over a lifetime. When people realize that their lack of assertiveness is creating an obstacle to healthy levels of self esteem, self confidence, self respect and overall fulfillment, they can become motivated to start taking the reins in various areas of their lives. It is extremely useful to discover the roots of their non-assertiveness so they can fully appreciate how it once served them, while also realizing that this role is no longer necessary for their sense of survival.
So, what is the definition of assertiveness? It is the honoring of your right to have an opinion and your entitlement to communicate your thoughts and your needs with honesty. In essence, it is about being loyal to your self. This is quite different from aggression. (Non-assertive people are often worried about being perceived as aggressive if they speak up). Being aggressive means displaying forceful, hostile, disrespectful and threatening communication or behavior. If you are non-assertive (neither assertive nor aggressive), you tend to hold in your feelings, hold back your ideas and preferences and risk sacrificing your own priorities, happiness and overall satisfaction for fear of judgement, confrontation and/or rejection.
Psychotherapy can support the transition from passivity to assertiveness by enabling you to gain insight into longstanding relationship patterns and to learn how to dismantle the underlying beliefs and fears that propel them. The process includes recognizing, understanding and challenging the underpinnings of your automatic reactions. When you take the steps to slowly and safely begin to express your true opinions and desires, you will grant yourself the right to be seen and heard and ultimately reap the many benefits of doing so.
It’s amazing to see the rewards gained by people who take claim over their lives, as they learn how to give themselves permission to have a voice in their relationships and become an active participant in their interactions. They are able to achieve a sense of freedom, autonomy and pride that they have never truly experienced before. When people actually start to consider themselves when making their decisions, it paves the way for the ability to pursue their dreams and accomplish their goals.
Therapist Santa Monica
Judy Zexter is dedicated to helping people meet their challenges in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Judy provides psychotherapy for individuals, couples, families and groups. Her office is conveniently located in Santa Monica and is easily accessible from neighboring areas, such as Venice, Marina del Ray, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Culver City and West LA.