Afraid to say “No?”
Updated: Jan 25
Social Anxiety and the Lack of Assertiveness
Uh oh! A good friend has asked you to do them a favor for which you really don’t have time or energy. Do you ignore your own needs to take care of theirs or do you prioritize your needs and ask if their favor can wait? If you are the person that immediately drops everything and says “yes,“ then this article is for you.
When we constantly ignore our needs to fulfill everyone else’s, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, low self esteem, depression, resentment, and distrust in ourselves. You may feel like some people even take advantage of your generosity. And more often than not, you may notice you feel exhausted by everyone else’s needs before you’ve accomplished any of the things on your own to-do list.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be dealing with social anxiety.
What are some other common symptoms of social anxiety?
● Fear of situations in which you may be judged negatively
● Worry about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
● Fear that others will notice you look anxious
● Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
● Upset stomach or nausea
● Feeling that your mind has gone blank in social situations
Sometimes social anxiety can be the fear of upsetting people by stating your needs. It can also be the fear of a loved one abandoning you if you can’t fulfill their requests. You likely have a story running in your head about how you can’t let anyone down and if you can’t do them this one little favor, they will leave you forever.
One way we can advocate for ourselves and still help others is by practicing assertiveness. It may feel contradictory, but being more assertive will actually help you rewrite your internal narrative and prevent these feelings. Remember that assertiveness is NOT the same as being aggressive, it is simply being
confident and clear about your intentions and desires. It is using tact to communicate a straightforward expression of your needs. It is learning to say “no” with loving firmness.
Many folks with social anxiety feel like saying “no” will make others feel bad or not feel loved. But saying “yes” when you really don’t have the time or energy actually does them a disservice because you aren’t able to give them 100% of you. This means they don’t get their needs met, and you are depleting yourself of your energy, and nobody wins!
So how do you practice having a personality trait that you weren’t born with or that you’ve been trained not to use?
Practice kind, loving compassion for where you are at, visualize where you want to be and then begin practicing with smaller situations and people you know won’t respond negatively or in a toxic way to your new boundaries.
To get you started, we have provided 7 holistic, first steps you can take to practice boundaries and get on the path to being more confidently assertive:
Stand tall as much as you can. Shoulders back and down, chin up, chest proud, make eye contact when speaking. You deserve to take up space! Changing how we carry ourselves can change how we see ourselves. If we move through the world with pride and confidence, we start to feel pride and confidence.
Practice meditation and journaling to get in touch with yourself. Meditating is a great way to connect your mind to your body and soul. How can you tell others what you want and need if you don’t even know? Listening to and writing out your internal voices is the perfect way to recognize what you’re feeling. We suggest using the Insight Timer app for guided meditations.
Meet yourself right where you are with your real feelings rather than focusing on what you or your loved ones think you should feel. When you can name your feelings internally, you can more easily express them to others.
Use “I’ statements. “I like your dress.” “I need to complete this paper before I can join you for a drink.” “I felt disrespected when you interrupted me today.” Own your existence!
When a favor is requested of you, don’t respond right away if possible. Take time to consciously ask yourself “Do I have time/energy for this?” If the answer is “no,” tell them that! “I would love to help you with that but I don’t have time today. May I help you tomorrow?”
Stand by your statement. If someone pushes back, tell them firmly “My needs must come first today. I will have time to help you tomorrow.” If they continue to push back, take space from them. They are no longer respecting your firm, clear boundary and it is not your responsibility to make them feel better about it.
Remember that most people you are being assertive with are also asserting themselves with you. They are communicating their needs and desires clearly with you. They won’t be offended if you do the same thing.
Setting new boundaries with people who are used to you having zero boundaries is going to be tough at first…but it will get easier and more natural with time. Becoming more assertive is a practice, it is like building a new habit. Know that it will take a little time. Start small and remember that setting boundaries for yourself is a sign of strength, NOT weakness. And again, if someone is pushing back on your new assertiveness, stay the course. Remember that only you truly know what’s best for you and communicating that to folks who think they know what’s best for you will be a challenge. Just continue to stand firm in your boundary and know that it will ultimately lead to the best outcome for both you and them!
I hope that our tips help you find more confidence and embrace your assertive side. Just remember, start small with folks you know and trust. They will honor and support your new boundaries as long as you stand firm in them yourself.
And of course, if you are trying these strategies and are still struggling to become more assertive, know that help is always available. Sometimes having the support of an experienced therapist is just what you need to bring you out of your shell, especially if your friends and family are not supportive of your new boundaries. To learn more about how we can help you with social anxiety and self-esteem book your free consultation HERE!