The ways in which we communicate with others can be an important part of our personality, our self-image, and our relationships. Some people bring a lot of humour into their communication, others are direct and firm, and still others are passive and quiet. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any one communication style, passive /submissive communication can develop into people-pleasing, which can drive unhelpful behaviors for someone struggling with an eating disorder. Moving from passive to more assertive ways of communicating is something many people struggle with, partly because of the negative connotation and myths circulating about what it means to be assertive. People who struggle with passive communication often shy away from voicing and celebrating their accomplishments, for fear it will be seen as egotistical, bragging, or putting others down. Recognizing others’ accomplishments while ignoring our own breeds low self-esteem, and makes it hard to accept compliments. We also believe that we should disregard our own personal needs and rights, and that a personal obligation to others comes above our own desires, preferences, and opinions. We get put on the backburner, which creates resentment, guilt, and shame. Saying “no” or disagreeing in any way has become a moral issue, where we believe that if we decline an invitation somewhere or have a differing opinion that means we are a bad friend, or unsupportive, or argumentative. These are all simply untrue, and believing these myths keeps us stuck in denying our feelings and opinions, and allowing others to choose for us, while holding onto the residual guilt and anger that passive communication creates. So how do we develop the boundaries we need to move away from people-pleasing? Assertive communication is a skill that needs to be practised and learned, and so it is important to be patient, because it is not going to come easily or right away. Here are some tips for bringing more assertiveness into your life.
Use "I" statements instead of “you” statements. Assertiveness is about expressing yourself, so focus on how you feel about what is happening, not what the other person is doing to make you feel that way.
Assertiveness involves stating your point of view firmly and without apology or blame, in a way that is respectful and does not attack the other’s self-esteem.
Assertiveness is also about expressing your feelings, which helps others understand where you are coming from.
Simply saying "no" or "no thank you" is all that is needed when declining something. You do not have to engage in any further conversation, or explain yourself. Start by practising with simple, inconsequential scenarios (ie. Being asked for your email at the store, declining a phone survey, etc.)
Practise being assertive in your head first, then write a script for what you would like to say. You can also write out practise scenarios – situations that might come up and how you would like to respond assertively.
Remember, not everyone is assertive in all situations, and it is easier to be assertive with certain people and in certain situations. Not everyone will respond to assertiveness in the way you desire, but this does not mean you are doing anything wrong, or that you shouldn’t be assertive. Speaking non-assertively lowers self-esteem, leads to bitterness and frustration, and sucks your time with activities that you have no interest in. Practising assertiveness show you that what you have to say is worth expressing and being heard!