Use Constructive Assertiveness to Become the Best Version of Yourself

Jon Hawkins

Set your own path by holding your ground.

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Each of us has our unique life to lead. We have our own goals, values, and interests. Each one influences the thoughts we have and the decisions we make.

On the other flip of the coin, we are part of communities, friendship groups, and social circles that come with collective interests & each member of that group also has their own distinct values and desires. For the good of the majority, it seems we have an obligation to first fulfill the interests of the collective; before we can address our own.

Sadly, following the requests of other people might leave us acting in ways that oppose our desires and values. Consider, for example, a friendship group you were in as a child, where the collective encouraged committing acts you regarded morally wrong.

When faced with social pressure from the majority, a lot of us give in to the status quo. We sacrifice our own personal goals and values and commit to things we don’t necessarily believe in.

According to Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D.(Psychology Today,) most people alter their self-expression to fit their society’s expectations — which is often the result of outdated and ineffective traditions. Knowing they are outdated, most of us blindly follow societal expectations anyway.

According to clinical psychologist Lloyd Thomas, fear of judgment and rejection prevents us from declaring our own values and thoughts. We inhibit our self-expression and sacrifice working towards our goals, in order to follow the crowd.

To become the person we want to be; we need to stand up for what we believe in, regardless of the social pressures or what others might think of us.

Here’s how to use constructive assertiveness to do just that.

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” ― Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks)

Embrace the “Why?”

Standing up against the status quo is a stressful task that takes effort and initiative. With immense social pressures, most are likely to give in and conform. When we hold beliefs that counter the majority, we’re bound to face scrutiny, and justifying our stance and defending ourselves is a strenuous cognitive exercise.

It’s for this reason that psychologist Andy Molinsky Ph.D. argues we need to embrace a why: a source of motivation that drives our determination. That belief should be one strong enough to encourage you to stand your ground and hold your point of view, even when others challenge it.

  • Perhaps you think the views and actions of your group are morally bankrupt (perhaps they discriminate against a certain group, or are at the detriment of something you regard important).
  • Maybe you feel underappreciated in your work, and think you deserve more recognition.
  • Maybe you perceive the current status quo as outdated, and you have a more efficient (and/or “better”) way of doing things that will benefit society — but is resisted and requires a paradigm shift.

Whatever the reason, you need some fuel to drive change. Without it, you’ll give in when faced with social pressures that contradict your beliefs.

In order to use assertiveness to become the person you want to be, your driving force should be grounded in your values. In doing so, you are making decisions with your core beliefs, goals, and interests in mind, rather than aimlessly following the crowd.

Being the Best Version of Yourself Doesn’t Mean Sacrificing Relationships

As humans, we are inherently social creatures. At our core, we want to be loved and strive for emotional and human connection.

Because of that, when standing up for yourself — you should avoid alienating yourself from the people around you. Otherwise, this assertiveness will distance you from your social circles and could be at the detriment of your friendships.

You can be assertive, without bringing about these negative social consequences. Constructive assertiveness can be achieved without aggression. It involves standing up for what you believe in and how it might apply to you, rather than attacking other people's viewpoints and trying to prove they are wrong.

People are more likely to listen and respect your assertions if you communicate them in a calm way that recognizes and respects their stance.

Assertiveness is never hostile argumentative, pleading, or inflexible. The claim that you either stand by your values or remain in a social group that has contradictory beliefs (but not both)is a false dichotomy.

The truth is, you can achieve both by adopting constructive assertiveness. Here’s how.

1. Recognize Their Point of View

Your beliefs and views don’t come from a place of misunderstanding or reflection. They don’t come from a place of arrogance or inability to compromise.

Constructive assertiveness involves hearing and considering the opinions of others, weighing them up charitably against your own opinions, and coming to a rational decision about what is best.

When you suggest a course of action that goes against the norm, it’s quite common for people to get defensive and perceive it as an act of aggression. According to Reynolds, you can avoid this by repeating back your understanding of other people’s standpoints. Doing so makes them feel heard, and listened to — rather than talked down.

From there, you can highlight why you find that position problematic in a calm and logical way. You’re not belittling the values and opinions of others, but you are making your own voice heard.

2. Be a Subjectivist

One reason conflicts of beliefs ruin relationships stems from the arrogance that both sides claiming the other is wrong.

Constructive assertiveness avoids this by accepting that some discussions and debates come to a stalemate. After weighing up both sides, your values lead you to conclude that X is correct, whereas others conclude that Y is correct.

When that happens, it’s better to reach a compromise. They are entitled to their opinion on the matter, and you are to yours.

Constructive assertiveness doesn’t always mean trying to persuade others that your view is correct. But it does involve having your voice heard, and your perspective respected. You have your beliefs, they have theirs. So long as they neither come into conflict; both opinions can live in harmony.

It’s only when you’re being coerced to act against your values that confrontation is justified. In these cases, your relationship might be sacrificed — that’s fine, I doubt you’d want to be friends with someone who doesn’t accept you for who you are (I know I wouldn’t).

Experiment & Read the Room

Research suggests that a “moderately” assertive style tends to be most effective.

But this isn’t the case for everyone. Depending on who you are, your position in a social environment, and the people around you will dictate the amount of resistance and social pressure you face.

There’s not one definitive level of assertiveness that will guarantee your views and values are respected.

According to Andy Molinsky Ph.D, you’ll need to experiment with the level and harshness of assertiveness you use, depending on who you are addressing and where. Try and read the room, learn to adjust your body language and script depending on the circumstances.

Aim to strike a balance between having your values and needs respected, and doing so in a way that is interpreted by the recipient as peaceful and non-confrontational.

In the words of Molinsky:

“The more you can customize and personalize your own style of assertiveness, the more successful and authentic you’ll feel.”

The Takeaway

Each of us has our own unique lives to lead. We have values, desires, and interests which shape the decisions we want to make. Sadly, these often come into conflict with the collective interests of the social groups we find ourselves in.

When that happens, it’s natural to want to avoid confrontation and give into social pressures. But doing so could be at the expense of our own self-interests.

When your values and beliefs oppose the status-quo, you should utilize constructive assertiveness to make your opinions heard and respected:

  1. Embrace the “why?” Properly internalize your reasons for opposing the majority — and use that to fuel your motivation when facing scrutiny and resistance.
  2. Recognize that living the life you want doesn't require you to sacrifice your friendships. Rather than acting with aggression, respect others' standpoints, and acknowledge that people with differing values can live in harmony provided they respect one another.
  3. Experiment & Read the Room. Learn to adapt the level of your assertiveness depending on who you are addressing, and where. Strike that balance between having your values respected, but do so in a peaceful and non-confrontational way.

In following these steps and adopting constructive assertiveness, you are allowing yourself the room to freely navigate and be your true and authentic self.

Better yet, rather than following the behaviors, attitudes and actions of the status quo, by self-reflecting, you are consciously taking steps to better yourself; instead of blindly following and committing to actions that contradict your beliefs.

Just remember to let your values guide your journey. After all:

“When you are fulfilling the meaning of your life, your steps are assertive, but when you are after power or pleasure, you become aggressive.” ― Roumen Bezergianov

I write about Self-Improvement, Life Lessons, Philosophy, Psychology & Business — to help you reach your full potential. To stay in touch, and to receive free and exclusive content, sign up to my mailing list.

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Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe. Durham University.

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