Assertiveness – Developing a Backbone

I work with people from all types of backgrounds and lifestyles, and I consistently see one commonality, especially among women. Women come into the office and lack the ability to assert themselves with others. Most women don’t know what assertiveness is, let alone know how to do it. And, if they do know how to do it, it is because they have seen it in an important person in their life.

Do you know what assertiveness is? If you want to have better self-esteem, and get your needs met, you must learn how to assert yourself. I call it developing your backbone – the backbone of self-esteem.

Which person are you?:

1. Do you assert yourself with others?
2. Do people know how you feel and what you think?
3. Do you speak about what is on your mind in a direct, concise manner?
4. Do people know the real you, and what you stand for?


1. Are you afraid to share feelings for fear of hurting others?
2. Do you squelch your opinions because they aren’t important, or you are afraid they will be shot down?
3. Are you afraid to speak your mind, because if you are, your needs may not be met and you will feel that double-rejection.

Which person are you? Now be honest so that you can make the needed change. Are you the first one or the second one?

Assertiveness is standing up for your beliefs. It is being clear about what you think and how you feel. It lets others know the real you, and it is a way for you to stay true to yourself so that you can achieve your goals and move closer to what you need. It is a direct message about your needs. It is proactive, and it empowers you to change.

Often times women who don’t assert themselves get walked on. Or, they find themselves putting their needs on the back burner. Assertiveness takes you out of the victim role. It lets people know where you stand. Many life strategists teach you that you teach people how to treat you. When you assert yourself, you teach others about your feelings, limits, and boundaries. You no longer can get walked on if you change your behavior.

There are two basic formulas you can use to assert yourself. Both involve using “I” messages. Think about something that you have kept to yourself, and practice using one of these sentences to share your thoughts. Take a moment and fill in the blanks


1. ___________________ ,
when you ______________________ ,
I feel ______________________ because
(the message it sends me, or the message I hear)

2. I don’t like ____________________________,
(the behavior)
and this is what I’m going to do about it if it occurs again.

Here are some examples of assertiveness:

1. A young teen in a divorced family hears his mother saying bad things about dad. Mom, when you say that dad doesn’t care about us, it makes me feel sad because the message I hear is that I am unlovable.

2. The newlywed tells his wife, “When you tease me about my failed attempts at taking care of the house, I feel angry because what I hear is, I’m not a good husband.”

3. The mother of three who tells her alcoholic husband, “I am no longer going to be treated that way, and the next time it occurs I will leave the room, ask you to leave, and go to a support group for people who have alcoholic husbands.”

The important thing to remember about assertiveness is that it is about you. It is not used to change others. Many women say that if they use assertiveness it will not get their husbands to change. That is exactly right – it is about letting your husband know how the behavior effects you, and it is one step closer to you changing yourself. Using assertiveness doesn’t guarantee that the other person will hear you, it means that you are being strong and bold about how you think and feel. The exciting part of assertiveness is that once you are clear with others you feel better about you. Consequently, you work on doing things that will move you closer to getting your needs met.

As an experiment, think of one thing you have kept inside and not shared that had to do with your feelings. Using the assertiveness formula, practice filling in the blanks and imagine yourself saying it to the other person. Write the statement down. This will result in you being more likely to use it in your daily life. It takes practice, but I guarantee the more you use it, the easier it will be to create assertiveness statements. And, what I know most of all, based on my work with thousands of people, is that when you concentrate on changing yourself and not others, you speed up the process of getting what you want and need.

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