Assertiveness, a useful resource to not get anyone to put their feet on their headsThe assertive arises in the optimal dimension, manages to assert its rights without overwhelming the other and manages to be accommodating without submitting to the other.
How many times in front of questions or requests made by our colleague, by our parents or by our partner did we feel like saying “NO, I don’t want to do this”? Often, however, we ended up saying nothing, and so we implicitly said yes, ending up forcing ourselves into something that was close to us.
It has happened to each of us to do someone a favor, leaving aside our point of view: we dedicate time to others moved by feelings of kindness, altruism, love and in these cases saying “YES” does not cost us anything, rather it makes us feel good , it makes us feel useful and important in that relationship.
However, there are situations where the inability to say “NO” is systematically more tiring and brings with it negative feelings such as anxiety and fear; you have the feeling of being stuck, trapped and unable to say what you think ; dysfunctional thoughts connected with remorse or any guilt for not having done something that, basically, we are told, were OK to do.
In these situations one tends to take a passive attitude and to suppress one’s needs according to those of others . In the long run, unfortunately, this continuous sacrifice of our point of view can lead us to no longer recognize what we want and not to legitimize our needs that we have by right.
Later we will talk about the importance of assuming a different way of doing towards us when we are in situations similar to those described above: a mental attitude in which we are able to recognize our thoughts, our needs and our emotions and we express them clearly and openly, without turns of words or manipulations, respecting our rights and the rights of others.
An attitude that we call assertive , in which we are in contact with ourselves and do not hide our needs and emotions because we are not afraid of doing it and we respect the space of freedom that is granted to everyone.
Non-assertive behaviors are often characterized by aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive attitudes and constitute obstacles to serenity and personal satisfaction, being highly correlated with concerns and anxiety (Noble & McGrath, 2008).
Ignoring or neglecting one’s rights and taking an uncertain attitude in the various situations of daily life, causes physical and mental disorders, damaging social relationships.
Assertiveness is in fact recognized as a fundamental skill for building interpersonal relationships in various fields: c i helps to be communicative, divergent, self-confident and aware of one’s own personal value ; it helps us to create intimate relationships with others, to prevent others from abusing us and to build good self-esteem (Eslami et al., 2016).
As we have already mentioned, one of the big obstacles to assertiveness is fear. Many people feel threatened and perceive the world as a dangerous place, inhabited mostly by enemies, against whom to defend themselves with submission , manipulation or open aggression .
In such situations, expressing your needs and emotions is difficult, if not impossible and, in a certain sense, it is useful that this is so: we are in fact in a scenario in which one of our fundamental needs is undermined, without which we can act and move consciously in the world, the need for security.
In 1943 the American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow introduces “Maslow ‘s Pyramid of Needs ” (Fig. 1), which identifies the basic needs that every human being must satisfy in order to live peacefully.
These needs follow an order based on their priority or urgency, so for example the need to breathe is necessarily placed before the need to eat.
The consequences of an unfulfilled need for security
Returning to assertiveness , inserted in the pyramid between the ” needs of esteem “, we will note that it is preceded by the ” security needs “: a lasting frustration of the need for security makes us feel threatened , in danger and consequently it will be impossible to approach the others regardless of these anxieties .
In the face of a threat, being assertive does not help much, the primary objective is survival. In general we see our safety undermined in two cases: faced with a real danger , such as a war, an illness, a natural catastrophe or, much more often, with a perceived danger , that is when the danger is feared, but it is not real.
This is the case, for example, of an anxious person who fears something that has not yet occurred , a negative situation perceived as possible that leads her to worry and mobilize anticipatory resources so that the event can be adequately avoided / addressed.
The needs of esteem are also preceded by the ” needs of belonging ” which feed our desire to forge emotional ties with people and to seek a place within our group.
These needs have evolutionary bases, in fact, as ” Attachment Theory ” teaches us, the creation and maintenance of social bonds, starting from the essential link between mother and baby, is an indispensable condition to guarantee survival (Bretherton, 1992).
When we perceive a threat of these needs we observe typically passive behaviors in an attempt to please others , such as not refusing requests, showing sympathy or making ourselves available beyond what is necessary and, above all, beyond what is really desired.
Anxiety in relationships leads us to live ties passively through perfectionism , availability and causing as few problems as possible.
There may therefore be several reasons for the difficulties that a person may encounter in recognizing and expressing his needs and emotions in relationships. Within this context, it is evident that being able to say “NO” takes on a different degree of meaning and importance for each of us.
In my next article we will look more closely at what small steps we can take to start developing an assertive and more benevolent attitude towards ourselves .