Being Authentic and Assertive | My Experience | Help & Advice
Let me ask you a question: have you ever bought something just to impress other people? Maybe it wasn't a conscious decision at the time; maybe you bought a book or a new item that you "needed" only to discover it wasn't something you loved, but you kept it anyway.
Why do I ask? Well, I recently looked at an old list I made of favorite movies, books, and video games, and realized that some of the things on the list were just things I told people I liked in order to appear to be a person I thought they'd like.
For example, in my opinion, a favorite movie is one where I can watch the entire thing and enjoy every scene. Whereas I might actually love Session 9 or About A Boy, I might tell others I don't know well that my favorite movie is The Sandlot. So why tell others a different story?
Maybe what I really think is that the movies I really like tell a story about me, and maybe people won't like that story. Picking things out to impress people is safer, because then they can write a narrative about a false you until they get to know the real you, and by that time, you've bought enough time so you can tell if they are even worth being a friend.
Why It Matters
After viewing that list of favorites, I realized how much I have changed over the past couple of years. In my present life, I will tell people my true favorite movie, favorite book, and favorite video game, and display things I love in my home, buy the car that I really want, and be authentically me. How did I get here though? It started with learning how to be assertive.
What Exactly Is "Being Assertive"?
I used to be very non-confrontational. It pained me to think that people might not like me, or might think badly of me. It wasn't until I was put in a position where I was so stressed out by trying to please other people that I went to therapy to try to ease the stress.
While in therapy, I learned that I needed to realize that I am important too. This was completely against everything I had learned up until that point in my life, so it was honestly hard to hear at first. In therapy, I learned that my thoughts and feelings were just as important as anyone else's, and I needed to speak up and have a voice, no matter if people liked me or not. I couldn't control how people perceived me or felt about me, but I could control how confident I could become and how assertive I could learn to be.
I used to think assertiveness meant confronting every person, every situation, and it frightened me. I thought, I can't do that! People will hate me! Then, as I completed tasks in assertiveness, I realized that people actually expect you to speak up if you need something or feel a certain way. Maybe they won't like what you have to say, but I learned that people respect you a lot more if you say something and they most likely won't continue to say or do the same things if you are consistently assertive.
People learn that you know your feelings and thoughts matter, and you will stick up for yourself. People that tend to take advantage of people who are non-confrontational do not usually try to take advantage of those who are assertive.
How I Learned to Be More Assertive
So, how can you learn to be assertive? I learned that you just have to do it. It sounds scary, right? It gets easier after the first time you do it, trust me.
The first exercise I tried is when I went to a movie theater alone and the only other two people in the theater began to talk loudly. I said, "Shhh" quietly and nothing happened, they just kept talking. I thought about leaving, but then I thought, here's a perfect chance for me to be assertive. I should be able to enjoy the movie just like everyone else. Telling myself my feelings mattered really helped to give me confidence to remedy the situation.
Now it seems so small, but it was the first time I felt proud that I stuck up for myself. I was scared to confront those people, but the feeling of doing something to say that I mattered too was worth those temporary feelings of fear. That experience led to others and my self-esteem and self-confidence improved greatly. It got to be that after a few times of being assertive, I wasn't afraid to speak up anymore. as the "bad guy". He did say something to them after I pointed to them and they actually stayed quiet the rest of the movie.
Looking back, it seems so small, but it was the first time I had done anything assertive and I felt (and still feel) so proud that I stuck up for myself. I was scared to confront those people, but the feeling of doing something to say that I mattered too was worth those temporary feelings of fear. That experience led to others and my self-esteem and self-confidence improved greatly. It got to be that after a few times of being assertive, I wasn't afraid to speak up anymore.
Does Being Assertive Convey to Others That You Are Aggressive or a Mean Person?
No. Being assertive doesn't mean that you are aggressive or mean. It doesn't mean that you will alienate everyone you meet; it just means that you are saying that you are important and you matter.
How Does Being Assertive Make You More Authentic?
If you can tell people how you really feel and aren't afraid to be yourself, you become more true to yourself, more authentic. Never be afraid to show who you are. You can't live your life trying to impress other people; it's exhausting and you're living a lie.
I've known people that buy expensive cars just for the sole purpose of impressing other people. Not because it was what they wanted or really liked, it was just to make other people deem them worthy of praise and admiration. Why did they believe they were not worthy of praise and admiration just for being themselves? How can a person get to a point where just by being themselves is worthy of love and respect?
I used to buy movies in my 20's that were solely for other people to choose to watch if they ever visited my home. My real favorites were in there somewhere, but I felt safer adding movies that the general public likes in case those people thought badly of me for having movies they looked down upon.
The same thing went for books, food, and how I decorated my room at the time. Now I just get things I like and if people don't like it, well then, they won't be in my life. I'm not saying I can't disagree with other's likes and dislikes, but if someone judges me for my likes and dislikes, then I don't need them in my life.
I also learned over time that if someone judges you for what material possessions you like, they are also judging you as a person. If someone genuinely loves you for you, they won't say things to try to bring your self-esteem and confidence down. They will want to see you happy and confident, not questioning if you truly care for them or not. You won't feel the need to be fake or surround yourself with things that impress others because you know it's okay to be yourself.
In my house, our dishes aren't china, they don't all match, I'm messy, and sometimes the house smells like steak instead of candles. Do I care? No. I used to. I used to arrange my life around other people, and it would've pained me to give someone a mismatched cup or have them see a book on my bookshelves that they thought was terrible, but with assertiveness comes absolute freedom.
I'm okay with myself and my likes and dislikes because I have become authentic. I don't need to impress other people because I've impressed myself with all the hard work I've done.
Happy Being Authentically Me in St. Augustine, Florida
Don't live your life to please other people. Surround yourself with people who love you for you, and who support your assertiveness and authenticity. Surround yourself with the things that matter and the things that you love. You don't have to be anyone but your authentic self.