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Do you struggle with being assertive? Maybe that is the wrong question to ask. How do you feel when you have to speak up for yourself and stop someone from running over you?

It can be challenging to become more assertive but is an important part of your healing journey. You can learn to make better eye contact and use more confident body language to help you feel more assertive. The heart of becoming more assertive is learning about the rights you have as a person. Believing in your rights leads others to treat you with respect.

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Learning to Be Assertive

During my divorce, I was ordered to go to counseling by the judge who presided over our case. I was grateful for the opportunity because I knew I had a lot of work to do to be the single mom my children needed.

When I arrived for my first session, nervous and afraid I would be labeled as insane, I received the gift of guidance. At the end of my first session, the counselor told me I was doing well and said she had a handout for me. I nervously took the sheet of paper and then laughed after I saw the title.

It was titled, “Ten Things To Do To Be More Assertive”. I laughed because I knew I let others walk all over me and because I was relieved that she didn’t think I had a mental illness.

Reading the suggestions on that sheet of paper made me cry. I resisted that it was healthy for me to stand up for myself. I fought the idea that being assertive would make me manipulative or pushy. I dreaded the day I would have to speak up for myself.

Now that I am over five years from then I can honestly say becoming more assertive has been a blessing to me and my children. I have learned to stand up for myself and others while being true to myself. I still have a lot to learn and will always face the challenge to be assertive.

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Eye Contact

Do you struggle to make eye contact with others? I know I did before I began working on my self-confidence and believed that I had the right to take up space.

You can practice eye contact with friends and safe family members. You don’t have to let anyone know you are trying to improve this skill. Just do it and see how it feels. When you feel more confident you can try making eye contact with people when you are out in public. To practice this skill look someone in the eye when you say hello in passing or while you chat with the cashier where you are shopping.

The more you practice the more comfortable it becomes. When you need to speak up for yourself being able to make good eye contact can help you get your point across. Keep practicing this valuable skill so you are ready to use it the next time you need to.

Assertive Body Language

Have you ever looked up body language and what it means? I know I have. It’s a fascinating topic that gives you insight into what others are thinking and feeling.

Many trauma survivors are good at reading body language and facial expressions. It’s part of how we survived and stayed safe. You can use those skills to your advantage when you interact with others.

You can practice standing and sitting with “strong” postures to see how it makes you feel. You can also rehearse the body language you want to use if you need to have a difficult conversation with someone.

Experiment with more confident ways of standing and sitting when you are around others and see how it makes you feel. It can be a fun experiment and help you feel more assertive. See if others treat you differently when you stand, walk, and sit with more confident body language.

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Your Tone of Voice

Have you ever thought about what your tone of voice and the volume you speak at reveal about you?

Sometimes when you are used to speaking softly speaking at a normal volume can feel like you are yelling. This is another skill to practice and grow into over time. Recording your voice and playing it back can help you learn what you sound like and help you find the right volume to speak with. Experiment and have fun. If you have a trustworthy friend you can even ask for help with this skill.

Center Yourself With a Few Deep Breaths

If you need to assert your rights in person it is helpful to have some tools to use to calm yourself if you get triggered. Taking a few deep breaths to center yourself can help you feel more confident before you begin to speak to the other person.

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A List of Your Rights and the Rights of Others

You have the right to ask for what you want.

You have the right to say no to requests or demands you can’t meet.

You have the right to express your feelings, positive or negative.

You have the right to change your mind.

You have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.

You have the right to determine your own priorities.

You have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings, or problems.

You have the right to expect honesty from others.

You have the right to be angry at someone you love.

You have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m afraid.”

You have the right not to give reasons for your behavior.

You have the right to make decisions based on your feelings.

You have the right to your own needs for personal time.

You have the right to be playful and frivolous.

You have the right to be healthier than those around you.

You have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.

You have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.

Tip, you can use any of the above rights as a mantra to help you work on your mindset.

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The First Step in Believing in Your Rights

When I received the above list of rights from my therapist I could barely read it. I didn’t believe it was true for me. I thought expecting others to honor some of the rights in that list would make me a manipulative person.

I had to read the list daily for a while before I began to understand that I did have the right to exist as a separate and healthy human.

If you are struggling with the list you can focus on the rights that are easiest for you to believe and build up from there. Another interesting exercise is to think about how you treat others and what rights you believe they should have.

You can journal about each of the rights and work through any resistance that comes up. It is okay if it takes weeks, months, and even a year or two before you can truly believe you have rights and it is not wrong to expect to be treated with kindness and respect.

Another way of working through the list of rights is to choose one or two to focus on for a period of time. You can begin this exercise by thinking about how these rights show up in your regular daily life. You can observe the behaviors of others and see how the rights you are focusing on fit in. And then you can intentionally assert your rights as you interact with others.

Learning to be assertive will help you live in freedom and peace.

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