Have you ever had strong feelings about something but kept them to yourself because you were afraid your opinion would not be well-received, or worse than that, your opinion would meet with total rejection? It happened to me several times when I was younger. Here is an example:
I was a sophomore in high school and I had a crush on a junior that drove a Porsche 911. He was cute, older, and drove a hot car. A triple threat! We were friends, but of course I wanted to be his girlfriend so I was beyond thrilled when we made plans to watch a movie at my house. I ran through all kinds of scenarios in my mind about the moments we would share, and convinced myself that as the credits rolled he would realize I was the answer to all his girlfriend dreams. Then he showed up with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and my fantasy fizzled.
I’m a huge wimp, and cannot handle anything even remotely creepy or frightening. In a passive way, I said something like, “I’m not really into scary movies.” A bigger understatement than that has never been made.
I know what you’re thinking. This was the perfect opportunity to get close to him during the most hair-raising scenes! He would have had to comfort me. But the sad reality was, I let him override my feelings and I spent the evening counting the minutes until the torture of watching that film ended. After counting minutes I counted sheep because I was too terrified to fall asleep…so terrified in fact, that I slept in my parents’ room.
How I wish I had understood back then how important assertiveness is to the growing up process. How I wish I understood how assertiveness breeds confidence and empowerment. Expressing yourself openly and honestly in order to communicate your needs, wants, or feelings is a skill that doesn’t always come naturally, especially for girls. Being able to effectively assert yourself comes from the belief that all of us are equally important and deserving of respect.
Sometimes we need guidance in developing a healthy feeling of self-worth. But once we understand that we are all special and deserving of respect, the process of developing assertiveness skills becomes much easier.
Below are the building blocks of being assertive: The three items on the bottom are crucial before you can move up to the two items in the middle. Once you have mastered those you will be able to say what’s on your mind with confidence. When we as females develop a strong and solid foundation, the integrity of the “structure” is maintained.
Saying What’s On Your Mind with Confidence
Recognizing Your Feelings Determining Your Wants and Needs
Self Worth I am Deserving of Respect I am Important
If you can be clear at a young age about how you want to be treated, you will set the tone for all your future relationships. These six tips will help you build self-confidence and effective communication skills:
- Practice with small, nonthreatening issues. For example: Friends are trying to decide on a place to eat. Rather than keeping your opinion to yourself or allowing others to make choices for you, offer a suggestion based on what you want. Developing the skills in safe situations will help develop the habit of communicating your needs, especially when it comes to issues that focus on your morals and values.
- Write down your thoughts before expressing them. Reading your thoughts allows you to ask yourself if you’ve accomplished the goal of making your point. Also, determine if the thoughts are too vague, sarcastic, or insulting in any way.
- Consider the positives and negatives. Taking a moment to think through a response and consider the consequences of our statements could be beneficial in the short term and long term.
- Stop, think, and listen to your gut. During an intense conversation, I took a quick bathroom break. In that brief moment I reflected on the reality of the situation I was in, and encouraged myself to say what I needed to say. We’ve all had those moments when you say to yourself, “I wish I would have said something else.” A moment of careful thought can avoid this.
- Channel an assertive person you know. Think of someone you know who speaks her mind with ease and confidence. Ask yourself how she would handle the same situation, or think about the advice she would give you and tailor that advice to your own needs.
- Be true to yourself. Even though the outcome may not be the one you were hoping for when you asserted yourself, if you were true to yourself you will have nothing to regret.
Shari Frolove is facilitator for Girls Unlimited. She pursued her passion for education in the South Jersey area and was a teacher and certified school counselor for over 15 years. She created Tween Guidance to provide support for girls and their families through individualized sessions that focus on self-esteem building skills. She combines her strong desire to make a difference through guiding tween girls, teaching spinning, and volunteering with her therapy dog and Girls on the Run. You can visit her at www.tweenguidance.com.