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  • Writer's pictureMark Thomson

How to Become Calm, Confident, and Assertive

Your guide to ending resentment, people pleasing, and feeling guilty when you say no


Much of my life I’ve struggled with anger. Most of my life I’ve struggled with pleasing other people. And these two seemingly opposite impulses went hand in hand.

The good news is that the solution for these problems is the same – assertiveness, and you can learn how to be more assertive, reducing both anger and people pleasing.


My journey


Sometimes it felt like there was a volcano within me waiting to blow. It didn’t happen very often, but when it did it was usually rage towards people I loved very much, that were close to me. I didn’t physically harm them, but I yelled at them, often in public. And of course I felt so embarrassed afterwards, apologised and made amends as best I could but it’s hard to undo the damage from a moment’s anger.


I could never justify that, but there were reasons. Anger often arises when others violate our boundaries. But I wasn’t good at expressing what I wanted and setting boundaries, until I started to become more assertive


As well as assertiveness, I found doing Reiki self-healing regularly helped me to let go of the need to be angry. Reiki helps you relax and release stress, and to cope better with the ups and downs of life.


And one of the five Reiki precepts or guidelines for living, is ‘just for today, I will not be angry.’ Initially that was the one I struggled most with.


Rage was relatively rare thankfully. Much more common was the need to please other people. I used to say yes, a lot. That meant I got the action points at meetings, did lots of ‘fun’ activities with friends that I didn’t enjoy, and resented the time and money it took.


But if you don’t deal with it resentment accumulates and those angry feelings can lead to aggressive behaviour, like yelling at someone or damaging property.

And holding in resentment and anger can seriously harm your physical and mental health.


I found it difficult to say no because I didn’t want to hurt people, I wanted them to like me, and I feared criticism, rejection, and confrontation. But I resented that I never seemed to do what I wanted to do.


What I discovered is that if I love myself, I don’t need approval from others. And always going along with what others want isn’t being kind to yourself. There is a great sense of relief when you say no, and you know you are doing the right thing for yourself.


Instead of this annoying people I found that they respected me more. The more honest I was about who I was and what I wanted, the more comfortable I was with myself, and the easier I was to be around. If I express who I am rather than what I think people want me to be, my friendships are more genuine. I can’t meet the people on my wavelength if I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not.


And please don’t worry if people are upset, remember you are doing what is right for you. What surprised me was that most people were fine with what I wanted to do. The fear of rejection was largely an illusion.


Do you:

  • Have trouble saying "No" when you want to?

  • Try to please people and avoid conflict?

  • Feel people take advantage of you?

  • Have trouble controlling your temper?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may benefit from becoming more assertive.


What is assertiveness?


Assertiveness is about expressing your opinions and feelings while

also respecting the rights of others. It allows you to relate to others with a positive attitude, and the belief that 'I matter and so do you'. And that helps you feel good about yourself. It is about standing up for yourself so you can:


  • Say 'Yes' and ‘No’ when you want to.

  • Communicate clearly to others what you are feeling in a calm way.

  • Speak out without being frightened of conflict.

  • Be who you are and express what you feel.  

However, if your self-confidence has been damaged then you are more likely to react passively or aggressively rather than assertively.


Passive behaviour - I lose, you win


Passive behaviour means you don’t express your feelings, opinions, and needs. Instead you give in to others, to avoid conflict and to please them.


The long-term effects include loss of self-esteem, stress, and resentment. Others may become irritated by you and lose respect for you.


Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness made me feel guilty about taking care of my needs. I learnt to please others and put their needs before mine. If someone said or did something I didn’t like, I kept quiet and tried to avoid them. And if it got too much I became aggressive.


Aggressive behaviour - I win, you lose


You are aggressive when you express your own feelings, needs and opinions with no respect for how others feel, or what they want. You see your needs as being more important than the needs of others and express yourself in a demanding, angry way.


The aim is to win at any cost while ignoring the consequences for feelings of others. This can cause major problems for you and those around you.


Assertive behaviour - I win, you win


Assertiveness is helpful and honest. You express your own feelings, needs and opinions directly and openly, while respecting the feelings, needs and opinions of others. You can ask for what you want.


You understand you have basic human rights, and that it is possible to stand up for them without violating other people's rights. You understand your needs  should be met otherwise you may feel undervalued, angry or sad.


You don’t expect others to magically know what you want or allow anxiety to build up, and you don’t avoid difficult situations.


Why is assertiveness important?


If you don't know how to be assertive, you may experience:

  • Depression

  • Resentment

  • Frustration

  • Temper outbursts

  • Anxiety

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Stress


Your rights


Everyone has rights. It is not selfish to protect your rights and stop others  violating them; you are maintaining your self-respect. As well as being aware of your own rights, if you respect the rights of others you have the basis for assertive communication.


I have the right:


·        To say “yes” and “no”

·        To ask for what I want without feeling guilty

·        To have feelings and express them assertively

·        To change, and to change my mind

·        To say, “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand”

·        To take time to think things over.

·        To be respected and to respect other people

·        To be myself

·        To be different to what others want me to be or do

·        To have others respect my rights as I respect theirs

·        To choose not to exercise my rights


How will people react to me being assertive?


In most cases, assertive behaviour will produce a positive response from others. The result is improved self-confidence in yourself and respect from others.


However, like changing any habit, it wasn’t always easy to start with. I found it helped to give myself time, So I used to say, “I’ll need to get back to you on that”.


I checked my gut feeling and asked, on a scale of one to ten how much do I really want to do this? If it was close to ten then I opted to do it. If I was still unsure, I asked myself, if I knew the person wouldn’t be upset, disappointed or angry would I say no – and if so, that’s what I did.


Sometimes it helped to talk it over with someone I trusted.


It worked best to tell the truth directly but with love and without blame. I was honest about how I felt, without over explaining myself.  I tried not to give the impression I was open to any discussion. I found it was about being considerate while sending a clear no.


Some people may react negatively to your changed behaviour. For example, loved ones may get angry if you express your true feelings, or an unreasonable manager at work may not respond well. If you feel this will be the case, consider if you are prepared to deal with these difficulties and how best you can do that.


Assertiveness techniques


'Broken record' technique: This is effective when:


  • You feel your rights are being ignored.

  • You are coping with clever, articulate people.

  • You may lose self-confidence if you give in.


Work out what you want to say, and repeat your reply, using the same words, over and over again in a calm and pleasant voice. Stick to what you have decided. Don't be pulled off course by what the other person says, and avoid an  argument or having to explain your decision. For example:


Sarah: "Jasmine, can you lend me £100?"

Jasmine: "I can't lend you any money. I've run out."

Sarah: "I really need it; I'll pay you back."

Jasmine: "I can't lend you any money. I've run out.

Sarah: "I thought you were my friend."

Jasmine: "I am your friend, but I can't lend you any money. I've run out."


Using 'I' statements: 'I' statements keep the focus on the problem and express ownership of your thoughts and feelings, rather than attacking, accusing or blaming the other person. Keep a calm, pleasant voice, and remember that you have the right to express your feelings and thoughts assertively.


A good technique is to use this sequence of phrases: “I feel/felt ....... when ....... because ........”


For example: 'I felt upset when you didn’t fill the petrol up in the car, because it meant I was late for work,' instead of: 'You never pay for anything or do anything.'


Saying "No" to unreasonable requests: Many of us struggle to say "No". However if you avoid saying "No" when you want to, you can be drawn into situations that you don't want to be in. You may be scared about how other people will see or react to you if you say no, that you will be seen as mean or selfish, or that they may reject you.


These fears are usually groundless. Saying "No" can be important and helpful, both in how you feel about yourself and how others perceive you.


Practice saying "No" by:

  • Being straightforward and honest so that you can make your point effectively.

  • Don't feel you have to say 'sorry' or give elaborate reasons for saying No". You have the right to say no.

  • If you don’t want to agree to the person's request but still want to help them, offer a compromise such as: "I won't be able to cook tonight, but I can cook tomorrow."

  • Acknowledge the person's feelings about your refusal, for example: "I know that you will be disappointed, but I won't be able to . . .."

  • Remember that it is better in the long run to be honest than feel resentment for not being able to say "No".


Putting it into practice


Now that you have read about assertiveness, think about any areas where you can be more assertive in your own life. To begin with you may decide to be assertive in situations where you feel safe to use the techniques. Then as you become more confident you can begin to be assertive in more situations.


As you practice assertiveness, you will feel your self-respect and self-confidence start to grow. When you respect yourself and others, people can sense this, and they begin to treat you with respect in return. And isn’t that a whole lot better than just going along with the crowd?

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