Living my own life: The most important thing to know when learning to be assertive

Manual J. Smith wrote his bestselling book “When I say no I feel guilty” in 1975. While that was a long time ago, his bill of assertive rights is still highly influential and rings true for us all in 2018.

The first of ten assertive rights in Smith’s book, and the one from which the other nine rights are derived is as follows:

You have the right to judge your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

The premise behind assertive right number one is a good one. We all want to live our own lives, to decide whether something is right for us rather than have others tell us what this is – to be self-reliant instead of “other reliant”.

Why then, is it so hard for many of us to do this?

Core beliefs, the things we accept as basic truths, colour the way in which we see the world and our place within it. They are sustained by selective thinking – we tend to only see the things that strengthen our beliefs and ignore the things that are challenge them.

Where do our core beliefs come from?

Our core beliefs about our self are molded by our past experiences, in childhood or adulthood. This is a problem if our “personal truths” are shaped by negative messaging.

We take on board messages about the things we should or shouldn’t do from influential others. Children absorb their parent’s view of the world and bring this with them into adulthood.

Many who come to Attuned Psychology are unhappy in “unequal” relationships, where their partner is an authoritative figure who tells them how they should or shouldn’t behave or feel.

How do our beliefs shape our behaviour?

There are many ways our core beliefs can shape the way we behave, and in turn shape the ways others behave towards us.

For example, if we have learnt that it is a bad thing to upset others or that conflict should be avoided, then we are unlikely to feel comfortable expressing our feelings or asserting ourselves with others for fear of the consequences.
Believing we’re unworthy because of being bullied, put down, or frequently criticised, is highly likely to lead to poor self-esteem and unassertiveness.

What needs to change to be able to live our life more freely?

Learning to question our core beliefs, or to accept that they are simply “stories” we no longer need in our lives, is the very first step towards freeing yourself from other-reliance and living your own life.

Smith suggests that to become the judge of yourself you must identify through a process of trial and error a system that works for you, based on what you like or don’t like. This will replace a rigid set of internal “rights and wrongs” and be more likely to reflect your true personality.

There is an important proviso to assertive right number one. Taking control of your feelings and behavior also means taking responsibility for the consequences of doing so. It’s easy to blame others for the way we feel, particularly if they are behaving in ways that we don’t like.

Accepting responsibility for your feelings opens up the possibility of change that isn’t available when you place responsibility for your happiness onto others, or find excuses to justify your behavior.

Learning to live your own life paves the way for you to build great relationships. Give it a go!

Do you have trouble living your own life, and want help to challenge your thinking or to live a more mindful life? The experienced Psychologists at Attuned Psychology are available to support you. Contact us for an appointment today.

Angela Crettenden

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