When we lack self-esteem, we feel bad about ourselves, and lack confidence about our ability to impact events and other people. We tend to become unassertive, giving in too quickly to other people’s requests, even when it goes against our personal values, or our self-care requirements.
We tend to allow events and people to inconvenience us without pushing back early enough. For instance, we may allow our boss to target us to do extra work, while other colleagues get away with working less. Or we may allow friends to push us to do something against our values, best health, or wishes.
How can we rebuild our confidence in our ability to impact events and people? We learn by doing, so a good way is to seek out situations where we can practice having an impact. We can start small, and work up to bigger situations.
One of the ways in which we build impact is through language. We can develop a repertoire of phrases which are useful in negotiations, to make sure that other people can’t take advantage of us.
This is particularly important if our childhood didn’t train us properly to speak up for ourselves. Now that we are adults, we need to develop the phrasebook we never had.
For example, let’s say someone asks us for an appointment at a time which we know that, for our self-care, we need to protect for other things. If we lack self-esteem, then we may just say yes, because it is easier to inconvenience ourselves, than to risk rejection or dislike.
For this situation, there is a whole range of possible replies, from the over-obliging to the positively hyper-assertive. For example:
Over-obliging: “Yes, that’s fine.”
Reluctant: “It’s not ideal, but OK.”
Non-committal: “I may be able to, but I’m not sure.”
Assertive: “I’m sorry, I can’t do then. Is there any other time you can do?”
Hyper-assertive: “I’m not free then.”
To develop assertiveness skills, we can take our response up one notch. So if we would normally reluctantly agree, we could shift to a non-committal response; if we are normally non-committal, we can try assertive.
If we try this experiment repeatedly, we allow ourselves to have more impact on people and situations. We move away from inconveniencing ourselves, and towards inconveniencing others. It’s OK to inconvenience others, if saying no fits with our values, or enhances our self-care.
Eventually, repeated improvements in assertiveness may convince our unconscious mind that we really do have more ability than we thought to influence people and events. This in turn can help us to feel good about ourselves, reversing the negative cycle of self-criticism.