How Can I Be More Assertive When I Have Social Anxiety?

Assertiveness does not mean stepping on other's toes.
Become assertive to overcome social anxiety. Getty / Tim Robberts

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) often struggle with being assertive. Being upfront about your feelings and sharing them with others feels hard, to the point that you would just rather keep them to yourself. The problem is, people can't read your mind, so you will often find your needs going unmet.

What is Assertive Communication?

Assertive communication...

  • is the straightforward and open expression of your needs, desires, thoughts and feelings.
  • involves advocating for your own needs while still considering and respecting the needs of others.
  • involves the use of "I" statements, such as "I need some help preparing dinner for our guests this evening."
  • is a way of making sure your needs are met while still considering the needs of others.

Being Assertive When You Have SAD

If you live with social anxiety disorder, communicating assertively may feel uncomfortable at first. You have probably adopted a passive communication style that enables you to avoid conflict but leaves you feeling anxious, depressed, and helpless, and causes frustration and discomfort to those around you. Learning to communicate assertively is not selfish, but rather an effective way of negotiating social encounters.

You may have misconceptions about what it means to be assertive.

People who communicate assertively

  • are not pushy or obnoxious
  • do not step on the feelings of others to get what they want, as is the case with aggressive communication

Instead, assertive communication involves expressing your feelings, needs and desires in a nonjudgmental and nonthreatening way.

Assertive communication can also be considered helpful to others, because you are giving clear information about what you need to be satisfied. By doing so in a nonthreatening manner, you  give others the opportunity to refuse your requests if your needs conflict with their needs.

The Importance of Being Assertive

Still not sure if assertive communication is the way to go?

Consider that most of your daily encounters will be with people who are communicating and behaving assertively.

They are telling you what they need from you and expecting you to refuse if their needs conflict with yours. If a request is too large or too difficult, it is up to you to communicate why you can't comply.

By the same token, others expect you to tell them what you need. Instead of expecting others to read your mind, or hoping that they will guess what you want, you need to be clear, honest and open about your needs.

How to Become More Assertive

Assertive statements generally begin with the word "I" and directly express what you are thinking or feeling.

Notice that being assertive does not mean stepping on the toes of others or berating them. The goal of being assertive is to negotiate social situations in a way that benefits everyone.

Some examples of assertive statements:

  • "I enjoyed talking with you."
  • "I like to watch horror movies."
  • "I feel hurt that you talked about me behind my back."
  • "I know that the children come first, but I feel sad that we don't spend any time alone."

To speak assertively, put these pieces of the sentence together:

  1. Start with the word "I."
  2. Add a verb that describes what you are feeling (like, dislike, want, need, feel, love, hate, wish...)
  3. And finish the sentence to describe what it is that you are feeling ("I wish you would spend more time with me, I am feeling very lonely").

Tip: Keep "you" out of the sentence, keep your emotions under control, and just share what you are feeling.

Try it again:

I..

can't...

help you with that task because my calendar is full.

See, it doesn't have to be overly thought out or complicated. It's about being direct and expressing your needs. Once you start to do it regularly, it will feel more natural. It's especially important for you to learn how to say no, as this can be an area in which those with social anxiety struggle.

Assertive Nonverbal Behavior

In addition to what you say, your nonverbal communication can also be passive, assertive, or aggressive. Read each of the following passages and see if you see the difference.

"Jane keeps quiet and hopes everyone will guess what she wants. She speaks hesitantly with a weak voice, and gives up easily. She tends to look down or away, has poor posture, and keeps her head down. She fidgets a lot and nods in agreement no matter what is said."

"Julie pays close attention to what is said around her, speaks with a strong relaxed voice, makes good eye contact, and stands up straight. She expresses concern and seeks out fairness in situations."

"Jack is sarcastic and comes across like a know-it-all. He needs to win at all costs, speaks loudly, and stares at people. He tends to stand with his feet apart and his hands on his hips. He also likes to point his finger and move abruptly."

Your goal should be to emulate the second style—that of Julie—which reflects asserttive nonverbal behavior.

A Word From Verywell

The next time that you are feeling angry or resentful, consider how you are communicating. By learning to be more assertive, you will reduce anxiety and improve your relationships with others.

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