Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Art Of Being An Empath: Empathy & Assertiveness

Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. In other words, Empathy is the ability to share in another person's experiences, perceptions and emotions.

There is an art to being empathetic toward others. This is because it takes great compassion for another person to willingly step away from their own personal perceptions of the world, essentially setting aside their ego, enough to step into another person's perceptions of the world, which include emotional levels, physical levels, and intellectual levels. The willingness to do this, as much as the actual ability to do this, take great conviction, because it then asks the person empathizing to open themselves up to a whole new way of seeing the world, through someone else's eyes.

Assertiveness is defined as being confident and direct in claiming one's rights or putting forward one's views. In other words, Assertiveness is simply standing up for yourself, speaking up for your rights, and effectively expressing your wishes, ideas and concerns. But in doing this, one does it with consideration to others through the act of being respectful of other people's personal boundaries and emotions.

There is an art to being assertive. This is because it is a kind of balancing act between being considerate and respectful of other people's feelings and your own needs. It is very distinct from being passive and aggressive because of this dual focus of balancing your needs with those of others.

Wikipedia describes Assertiveness, in more detail, this way:

As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries, their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to abuse or manipulate them through fear. Passive communicators are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by overcoming fear to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. Assertive people are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive.

Empathy and Assertiveness

At first glance you might think that these two ideas have little in common. Empathy is 'other' oriented, meaning its focus is always centered around other people. Whereas, being Assertive appears to be more 'self' oriented, meaning it's focus is centered on one's own needs and desires. And through this association, one might even suppose there is a negative connection between these two ideas.

Beneath the surface, though, both of these concepts share similar traits. Both attempt to further human understanding. Both allow for recognition of another person's thoughts and feelings. And both involve the idea of appropriateness and flexibility in manifesting empathic and assertive communication. In other words, these things allow one to be 'other' oriented by being considerate and respectful of the other person.

Why then is this such an important topic, aside from the obvious sharing of information here? These two ideas, by themselves are both extremely wonderful ideas. But at the same time, they tend to reek havoc on highly empathetic people (Empaths, HSPs, INFJ). You see when someone is highly empathetic, they can become so 'other' oriented that they begin to exhibit unassertive behaviors. Thus, they can lose sight of their own goals, needs and desires. This can become problematic for highly empathetic people, because when this scenario occurs they can literally begin to lose their sense of self in the ever churning currents of other people's emotions. And this can have a huge impact on the psyche of a highly empathic person, leaving them open to abuse, manipulation, and the long term effects of low self esteem.

Often times, as people pleasers, highly empathetic people will feel a deep abiding sense of guilt when they need to act assertively. This guilt rises out of finding it abhorrent to hurt another person. But equally, it can rise out of an innate fear of being alone, or more specifically, being shunned if the other person is hurt, offended, or angered. This type of fear can hold a person's tongue, disabling their ability to stand up for themselves effectively. And it can, again, leave them open to being treated harshly by other people.

The Importance Of Being Assertive

When you behave assertively in a situation, there are certain insights that you gain. As you are using assertiveness skills, you will come to understand that you have personal rights to:
  • Feel good about yourself
  • Change your mind
  • Say no and not feel guilty
  • Have you own opinion
  • Ask for help and receive guidance
  • Ask for what you want or need
  • Protest unfair treatment or criticism
  • Be recognized for your achievements
  • Gracefully accept compliments
  • Take your time to form a response
  • To experience and express your feelings
Other benefits include:
  • It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
  • It leads to the development of mutual respect with others
  • It increases our self-esteem
  • It helps us achieve our goals
  • It minimizes hurting and alienating other people
  • It reduces anxiety
  • It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
  • It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
  • It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative
The Ability To Say 'No"

One of the hardest things highly empathetic people can do is say 'No'. But this is, quite literally, the first step in being assertive, because it asks the person saying it to set emotional boundaries, know their limits, and stick to them, despite how it might affect another person.

The very idea of saying 'No' can cause so much fear to rise in the person, at the prospect of confrontation and at the thought of being shunned, that the person becomes overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. And this fear can cause the person saying 'No' to rescind their statement and give into the other person, even when what the person asks for is to much for the highly empathetic person. This fear overrides their own sense of survival by, as we have stated before, disabling their ability to speak out and effectively stand up for themselves.

This fear, of simply being able to say 'No', stops the ability to form personal and emotional boundaries. It halts the process of adequately setting limits on one's self. And this speaks nothing to following through with such limits, because there simply aren't any.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

This quote is very telling, particularly to this discussion. It says that courage is simply finding something more important than fear. In this case, the fear is of being left alone. And the only thing that can be more important than that fear, is you. So it asks you to question yourself about how much value you truly place on yourself when compared with others. What are you willing to put up with in order to belong? What are you willing to sacrifice, over and over again, to stay in the good graces of those around you? Are you willing to do this, even to your detriment, in order to feel as though you have a place in this world?

The Question

How do I help myself? Are there ways to help myself become more Assertive?

The Answer

The answer is yes, there are ways to help yourself become more assertive. You begin to help yourself by simply reading them and thinking about them. You open yourself up to new ideas.

So with that in mind, I'm going to offer you some websites that have helpful tips and exercises you can do to help yourself become more Assertive. But remember, the journey to self esteem and the ability to be Assertive, isn't an overnight one. It takes time, and its important that you remember that, so you are patient with yourself as you travel down this road. This is because it is very easy to become frustrated with yourself and with others, when you don't feel like you have effectively stood your ground or people don't react immediately to your more Assertive behaviors, dismissing it.

Taking steps, no matter how small, is a push forward toward the things you want. And during those steps, it is of less importance to succeed at it, than it is to initiate it. The confidence to succeed will come the more you initiate this behavior. Thus, this is why it is paramount to be patient with yourself and give yourself the time you need.

Assertiveness Quizzes

How Assertive Are You?
The Assertiveness Quiz
Assertiveness Quiz

Assertive Skills Building

These are but a few websites that offer helpful information about Assertive Skill Building. If you find these helpful, try using a search engine and looking for more information on this subject.

Assertiveness Skills
Tips For Developing Assertive Communication Skills
10 Tips For Being Assertive Without Being Aggressive
Improving Assertive Behavior
Tips On Becoming Assertive
Assertive Communication: 20 Helpful Tips
Assertiveness And Self-Confidence Methods And Techniques
Assertiveness Training Exercises
Free Assertiveness E-Books (PDF format)

Assertiveness Videos

Six Signs You Are Not Assertive Enough

Assertiveness Scenarios: 10 Examples

Assertiveness - Tips for being assertive and saying 'No'

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