Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The 4th Pillar of Self-Esteem: Self-Assertiveness

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where you tried so hard to make the other person happy that you abandoned yourself in the process? Have you ever cared too much when trying to help others, sacrificing yourself as a result?  Have you ever tried to please others, and in doing so betrayed your own needs and wants?

At different points in my life, I have abandoned myself, practiced self-sacrifice and betrayed my own needs and wants, never realizing how I was hurting myself in the process. Without knowing it, I was actively practicing the opposite of self-assertiveness, which is an important element of self-esteem.

What is self-assertiveness? Self-assertiveness means living authentically, being who you are openly every day, without worrying about pleasing others. It means honoring your wants, needs and values. Speaking and acting from your inner convictions as a way of life. Treating yourself with respect and being willing to stand up for yourself.

Some of us may have a negative view of self-assertiveness, equating it with aggressiveness or selfishness. And some of us come from a culture where it is more desirable to fit in than to stand out. How can we embrace self-assertiveness if we have been taught that it is bad or dangerous to do so?

It may help to clarify that self-assertiveness is NOT belligerence or inappropriate aggressiveness, it doesn’t mean pushing to the front of the line or being blind to other people’s needs. It’s NOT mindless rebelliousness.  Also, you don’t have to give up being part of a family, community, or group. It’s all about finding a balance between who you are and being in relationship with others.  We all have to adjust to particular situations, environments and people. But we do not want to consistently abandon who we are, and betray our true needs, wants and values on a regular basis.

When we do not express ourselves and do not stand up for our values when it is appropriate to do so, we are hurting our sense of self. The crazy part is that nobody is doing it to us – we are doing it to ourselves! (See last week’s article on self-responsibility for more.)

So how can we start practicing Self-Assertiveness instead?

We need to become conscious of what we are doing and start taking action.

You can begin by completing the following sentences, just jotting down different endings that come to your mind, without thinking about it too much.
1. If I had the courage to treat my needs and wants as important…
2. If I am willing let people hear the music inside me…
3.  If I am to express 5 percent more of myself today…

Then go ahead and take one of the actions you come up with. Speak up when you are wondering if you should say something. Share something about yourself with someone. Honor one of your wants and do something you have been meaning to do.  Each of those actions is a step toward Self-Assertiveness and a step toward a more Authentic You.

This is the 4th Pillar from Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s book “The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem.” For more on self-assertiveness, see:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 3rd Pillar of Self-Esteem: Self-Responsibility

Self-Responsibility is a very powerful concept.  It means that I am willing to take responsibility for my actions, for reaching my goals and desires, for my well-being and my life! Nobody else can do this for me. 

There are times in our lives when we feel down, think we are a victim, or life appears to be just “happening” to us. We might think: If only someone came to get me out of this. If only someone would make me happy. If only something would happen to make this go away. If only someone would really love me. If only someone could truly understand me… 

The sobering truth is, no genie will appear to grant us our wishes, no prince or princess will come and rescue us, and no fairy godmother will wave her magic wand.

But here is the good news: You are your own genie, you are the prince or princess, and you are your own fairy godmother!  You are the one you have been waiting for: That someone who can get you out of this, make you happy, love you and understand you is…yourself!   

You will probably need help and support along the way (we all do), but you have to be the one who takes action to ask for and get the help and support you need.

Of course we don’t have control over everything. This is not about holding ourselves responsible for matters beyond our control. However, we have so much more power than we are aware of!

The power of this principle became even clearer to me in the context of holding resentment and blaming others. When I was younger, I held a lot of resentment against my parents. I blamed them for many things, including my own unhappiness. However, it got me nowhere. Resentment and blaming just kept me stuck. I just kept on wishing for things to be different.

Claiming self-responsibility meant that I had to start asking myself what I could take responsibility for. This is different from blaming yourself – it’s not about finding fault. It’s just asking yourself what role you are playing in this. In my case, I could take responsibility for not speaking up, for not sharing how I truly felt. Once I realized that, I was able to take action by having more open conversations. It was a process, but I was able to realize what lessons I could learn and what good could come from this, and I was finally able to let go.

Before, I had a very convenient story: I could see myself as a victim, feel sorry for myself, and wish for things to change magically or for someone to come and rescue me. But none of this helped me move forward. It just kept me where I was.

Wishing or blaming keeps you stuck. Taking self-responsibility helps you move forward.

Here are some questions that can help you kick-start this process:

If you could give up blaming your parents, your ex, your boss, or your co-worker and take responsibility for your actions, what would you realize? What would you be able to do?

If you took responsibility for your behavior with other people, what would happen?

If you could accept that you are responsible for your own happiness, what would you go out and do?

Take a few moments to write down what answers come to you, without thinking for long and without editing. Then read what you have written. What are you aware of now?

This is the 3rd Pillar from Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s book “The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem.” For more on self-responsibility, see: