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Learning to Be Assertive Can Aid Your Mental Well-Being

Being direct, honest and expressive without hurting others is key to feeling better.

Author Melody Beattie once said: “The new year stands before us like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written”. A new year means different things to each of us as it brings a time for reflection, goals and plans. Fitness, giving back, mindfulness, and travel are among the more popular ‘resolutions’.

However, in the last several weeks, I have observed a new theme emerge and it’s called Assertiveness. I am hearing more and more people say, “I want to be more assertive this year” or “I want to say no more often” or “I’d like to prioritise and focus on things that are important to me”.

Being assertive is a core communication skill in expressing oneself effectively and standing up for what one believes in, while respecting the rights and beliefs of others. Because assertiveness is based on respect for self and others, the focus is on resolving conflicts and moving forward. Lack of assertiveness can affect mental health in the form of stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, feelings of being victimised and vengeful behaviour.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, a model of people and relationships, is a social psychology that rests on the philosophical assumption of “people are okay”. It emphasises the worth, value and dignity that a person has; that they matter.

The famed “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” model positions individuals engaging in a social transaction as equals, an ideal place where both individuals are comfortable with the self and other. Transactional analysis is designed to increase the communication effectiveness of individuals.

Assertiveness plays a significant role in achieving the ideal state of “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”. People who are assertive are direct, honest and expressive. They communicate assertively by not being afraid to speak their mind but doing so in a way that is respectful and appropriate. They feel confident, gain self‐respect, and make others feel valued.

Not to be confused with aggression or arrogance that disregards the needs and feelings of others appearing superior or even bullying, assertiveness is standing up for oneself and willingness to defend against aggressive incursions or affronts by others.

While assertiveness is much talked about, and no doubt very important, it eludes many. Cultural, social and family contexts contribute to how assertiveness as a skill develops in individuals. It may come naturally or needs training, could develop early or later in life, maybe encouraged more in certain contexts over others. Research shows that individuals who find being assertive challenging, experience more conflicts which thereby affects their mental well-being.

Assertiveness can be liberating, contributing to increased self-esteem, improved communication, creating win-win situations and authentic relationships. The great thing about assertiveness is that it can be developed like a muscle. The more you practice, the better you get at it. And as any fitness enthusiast would agree, it takes patience but the results are incredibly rewarding. 

There are several assertiveness practices that one can experiment with such as body language changes, awareness of one’s feelings, respect for others while being direct, etc. Learning to say NO can be a great place to start.

It is okay to stand up for yourself because if you don’t, why should anyone else for you, eh? Own your mental well-being!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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