At what point do you notice you’ve done it again? Sometimes, it may be an unconscious or even deliberate way to put others at ease. This is fine as long as you’re happy with the results. But if you find yourself feeling resentful that someone you’d been helping is surging on ahead without you, it may be that you put them too much at ease, at your expense. You’re emotionally subsidising them. Helping them feel better about themselves without valuing yourself.
Who are you most likely to question yourself around? A certain friend? Your boss? Partner? Parents? Notice the impact it has on your relationship and role. If you’ve been passed over for promotion or you seem to be the only one compromising in your relationships, perhaps your efforts to help others feel at ease is coming at far too high a cost.
Who do you NEVER question yourself around? Of all the people I’ve coached, even the ones who have found assertiveness the biggest challenge have someone who they feel naturally assertive around. What are your naturally authoritative, assertive areas? It may be not questioning yourself when it comes to commanding, ‘No!’ when you see a child about to do something potentially dangerous. Your desire to protect overrides your wish to be liked (if this is you, don’t underestimate yourself with a, ‘But everyone would be like that with a child!’ Some people are unable to set boundaries with children but perfectly adept at negotiating better pay. The point is to recognise your own strongest area).
Spend a moment imagining yourself in the role you find it easiest to be assertive in. What do you tend to be doing? Who are you with? What kind of thoughts and feelings are you aware of? Why is it so much easier for you to lose the silent question mark when you’re doing this thing? How do you see yourself in this role? Allow an image of yourself at your most naturally authoritative to come to mind.
What might happen to your relationships in this role if you started finishing your sentences with question marks? See how quickly you’d lose that sense of assertiveness and ease? Go back to imagining yourself in that place, with those people, doing that thing and let the image reappear. Go with your gut (it might be a sunflower standing tall and bright or a frog confidently bounding from lily pad to lily pad. It might be something industrial or even abstract). Once you have your image, seek out a picture, maybe online, or draw something to represent this strong, powerful, unapologetic you. Put copies around your least assertive areas to remind yourself of it.
What might happen when you stop questioning yourself? Again, let your mind wander. How might the people you’ve been undermining yourself around begin reacting to you? It’s possible that they may even attempt to undermine you themselves. But it’s funny – as soon as anything like that happens, you’ll be able to nip it in the bud. We tend to be way more tolerant of the horrible thoughts we think about ourselves than anything we’d allow someone else to say to us. Practice stating your needs and wants directly, without asking others for permission. Allow yourself to know more than others in certain situations (just as they’ll have more expertise in another area).
Experiment and practice – Who can support you in this? Choose someone you trust enough to share your tendency to do this without using it against you. Someone who will instead gently challenge and coach you to be more authoritative. If no one springs to mind, think about finding a supportive counsellor or coach who can work with you on a regular (weekly at first) basis. However old you are, you’ve been practicing undermining yourself for that long. Those neural pathways will be so entrenched that it will take a concerted effort to notice yourself doing it.
Just as walking through a field of long grass (as you do) can feel like making your way through a jungle until you’ve created a path by following the same route a few times, our thoughts and actions have the same impact on our brains. By changing the way you speak (and think) in this way, you’ll soon create new neural pathways which support you much more as you reclaim your authority. You are totally worth it.
Find more information and advice at www.facebook.com/WellbeingAtWorkFeelBetterEveryDay, www.twitter.com/WellbeingEve and www.wellbeing-at-work.co.uk