By Jordi Cabanas-Danés

The word assertiveness originated from the Latin participle assertus, which means “to declare free”, “to protect” or “to maintain”, among other meanings. At first sight, the etymological meanings of the word might seem completely unrelated to its current use. But is that right? Or do the archaic meanings also apply to the current use of the word?

We often understand being assertive, or better said, behaving assertively, as applying the skill of communicating with others in a direct and honest way, without any further emotional implications. However, in my opinion, this is a very limited view of what behaving assertively entails. In fact, one could say that communicating assertively is merely the end result of behaving assertively. In any case, assertiveness is a skill, and as such, anyone can learn it. Over the past few months, I have been following a training in assertiveness myself, with the hope to improve my own skill and hopefully help others who are struggling with the consequences of a non-assertive behavior. In the next paragraphs I would like to share with you a few of the eye-openers on assertiveness I have gathered so far, which are – not coincidentally – related to its archaic meanings.

To declare free

To me, behaving assertively means declaring yourself free of what others might think, feel or behave. Free to listen to yourself and to think about what you really want. Free of the high demands you set on yourself, while making honest choices. In fact, declaring yourself free is a choice in itself. A choice that, if you feel you won’t express your own opinions or set your own boundaries, you are refusing to make. Since I started investing time in improving my own assertiveness, I have noticed that this is a trial and error journey. The latter has nonetheless not discouraged me to continue learning, because I have also started noticing a positive change. For example, in those instances when I decided to express my own opinions or indicated my boundaries in a clear way, I did feel respected by others and more importantly, I came to the realization that I had just respected myself! And this is what freedom means to me: respecting oneself.

To protect

I think of assertiveness as a series of rights, your rights, which you must cherish and protect. You have the right to be treated with respect, and that does not mean that others need to put you on a pedestal or tell you that you’re right, but it means that you won’t let others tell you who you are, also when you are not sharing the same ideas or beliefs. When you are not very good at assertiveness, you might tend to condition your behavior to the opinion of others or sometimes, even to your own idea of what the opinion of others will be. However, you are actually only responsible for your own thoughts, feelings and behavior. You also have the right to decide whether you refuse or accept something and set and protect your own boundaries. Saying yes to something you don’t want might mean saying no to something you do want, and letting others influence your own needs and wishes also results in losing control of your priorities. For example, by not protecting my free-time boundaries for the fear of appearing as an irresponsible employee, not willing to overwork, I ended up saying no to spending quality time with my loved ones and this truly is lost time, time that I cannot protect anymore.

To maintain

By nature, people tend to not deal well with change and pose resistance to it. This will affect your attempts of behaving more assertively towards your close acquaintances. They might feel less in control of the situation and their expectations and even be tempted to fight against the “more assertive you”. Being assertive also means to maintain your new assertive behavior, also in the face of resistance. Behaving assertively also means maintaining yourself when facing fears: the fear of criticism, of being rejected or abandoned, of losing someone’s love. A fear, that is often mainly an irrational idea created by our own ego.

The true you

So far, through assertiveness, I have learned to listen better to myself and to what my needs and wishes are. I have become more compassionate not only about others but also about myself, and I have embraced the fact that we have the right to make mistakes in the journey. I have learned that assertiveness is a tool to become closer to oneself, closer to being and behaving in an authentic and consistent way.

I wish you all the best in your journey towards assertiveness!

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