I like this quote from author and philosopher Albert Camus:
To know oneself, one should assert oneself.
As humans, we are sometimes afraid to share our true feelings or speak our true needs. We fear being rejected, criticized, disappointed, embarrassed or misunderstood. We’re scared to appear needy, hurtful, selfish, smug or vulnerable. We don’t want to cause others to feel anger, sadness, love, “obligation” or some other emotion that frightens us. The list goes on — but notice how all of these fears relate to how other people perceive or react to us, rather than how we perceive or react to ourselves? What about our own needs for personal growth and learning?
If you don’t assert yourself — if you don’t voice your own thoughts and feelings and needs and desires — then how can you ever know what truly drives you? How can you ever sort through the multitude of possible reactions, emotions and perspectives available to you, and find the ones that most accurately and comfortably express the person you are inside? And how can you communicate with other people in ways that nurture relationships built on understanding, respect and trust?
It takes practice to hone any new skill, and assertiveness is just that: a skill. If being assertive is new to you, then it’s not realistic to expect instant success. You wouldn’t expect to paint a masterpiece the first time you picked up a paint brush, would you? What we need to understand and accept is that it is OK to make mistakes in communicating our needs to others, because mistakes are how we learn. It is OK to be too pushy one day, and too flimsy the next. It is OK to cause another person to get mad. It is OK to appear “selfish,” or to disappoint someone we care about. It is OK to ask for love or help or a hug. People are resilient beings; they will get over whatever you throw at them — and if they don’t, they are probably not a good match for you in the long run.
The more we assert ourselves, the easier and more comfortable it will become. The better able we will be to discuss issues openly and honestly, and to achieve satisfying compromises. And the stronger, more authentic and more mature our relationships will become — both with ourselves and with the people around us.
As writer Hugh Prather says,
Some people will like me, and some won’t. So I might as well be myself, and then at least I’ll know that the people who like me, like me.