The Self-Care Reality Check: The Power of Assertiveness

Does saying “No” count as self-care? You bet it does.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the difference between self-indulgence and self-care. This is a topic that I return to, yet again, because I maintain that self-care is more than a fancy buzzword or a reason to get a mani/pedi. Lately, I have been on a mission to combat my own preconceived notions about self-care.

On my own self-care journey, I have learned that saying “no” without apology, excuses, or justification is much easier said than done. Assertive communication has, therefore, become one of my favorite topics to discuss with clients, from young teens to older adults. In assertive communication, “I-statements” convey your intentions and needs. This style of communication involves setting boundaries using clear, decisive, and succinct language.

Early in my graduate research, I worked on a project which explored assertiveness as a communication tool to help women cope with unwanted sexual advances. This fascinating work involved real role-play activities with female participants. They would practice using “I-statements” and other assertiveness skills with a male actor, trained to verbally pressure them into participating in various scenarios from rejecting an offer to a date to an explicit sexual advance. This practice helped the participants build their confidence in their own ability to say “no” when facing the unwanted pressure. Even in a role-play scenario, saying “no” wasn’t easy. I watched participants tense up. Many would trail off into a string of excuses or apologies. “I would love to go out with you, but I just can’t right now. I’m sorry! It’s just that this semester is so busy. Maybe another time? Can we still be friends?”

I never viewed myself as an exceptionally confident or assertive person. My goal was always to make the people around me feel comfortable, satisfied, or proud of me. I would often minimize myself to accommodate the booming presence of another person. This people-pleasing mentality reduced my feelings needs to make space for everyone else. I have since learned to pay more attention to my internal process, and assertiveness continues to be a work in progress. This has been my most meaningful mission of enhancing my self-care. I hope to instill this same hope in each and every client I work with who also struggles to be assertive. Therapy, after all, can be the perfect place to find your voice.

Why do I care so much about this? Honestly, because of my own struggle with assertive communication. The research taught me that assertiveness is not a skill that you have to be born with. Assertive communication can be developed and practiced over time, just like swimming or riding a bike. Understanding this fundamental piece instilled hope in my own ability to set better boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. Full stop.

Truly believing this and training yourself to use this word allows you to achieve a sense of freedom like you may have never experienced. Saying no to one trivial thing frees up space and time for you to do something else more meaningful. How do you plan to assert and care for yourself?

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