Help! I find it too difficult to assert and express myself!

Q1: In situations where I think that I need to stand up for myself (especially when I find I am being treated unfairly) – I am not able to express myself. How to overcome this?

Answer: When we are unable to stand up for ourselves we often feel helpless, angry and frustrated. At times a feeling of helplessness often leads us to be tongue-tied and then we are plagued later by thoughts about how our response could have been.However you can learn to be assertive and once you start standing up for yourself you will find that people will stop taking you for granted. There are a few points to keep in mind about being assertive.

a) Keep your tone neutral and calm.

b) Use ‘I’ language to express what you feel. Example – I feel disrespected/upset when this happens/when you cut me short etc.

c) Express your understanding of the other person’s perspective. This is important because the needs and rights of both parties are met and you are showing empathy which is an important quality to have for better relationships.By clarifying what you have understood, you take charge of the situation and clear ambiguity if any.Example – I appreciate what you are trying to say/Am I right in understanding that this…is what you are trying to communicate?

d) State how you would like the situation to be handled and the positive outcome that will emerge as a result. Example – I would appreciate it if we could have a dialogue about this so that we are on the same page here/While I understand your concern, I would appreciate it if you could see my perspective too because there is nothing I would like better than for us to work this out together.


Q2: There are also times when I think it would not be wise to express myself – because of the hierarchy or some other similar issues but I feel very angry inside. How do I deal with such an emotion?

Answer: Yes, it is difficult when we are unable to express ourselves because it may be unwise to do so in certain situations. However being assertive does not mean being aggressive or forceful. So in any situation if we use the right language and tone as demonstrated in the above examples, we could express ourselves as honestly as possible without upsetting the other person. If it is a senior at work then paying attention to the timing of the discussion is also important. Perhaps it would help if you could role play with a friend or a therapist beforehand. But sometimes if we are totally unable to express ourselves to the person concerned for whatever reason, then it might be a good idea to share your feelings with somebody else to process your anger and frustration. Anger is also an emotion that needs a physical release. So perhaps going for a run, a brisk walk or even using a punching bag may be a good idea! Also, in such situations, practicing to focus attention and energy on those aspects of our life which are going right in some way and/or wherein there is a scope for us to do something/ work upon/improve might be helpful- not just in decreasing brooding but also in maintaining an overall sense of well being.

Expert: Mrs Sukanya Srinivas Ananth
Psychotherapist, Bangalore