By Priya Florence Shah
Almost all women of my generation were brought up to be ‘nice girls’ – to not argue and be pleasant and pleasing, even at the cost of our own self-esteem.
But every time we did not speak up for ourselves, every time we kept quiet when we should have spoken up, we felt a little worse about ourselves. And that little girl inside felt more and more lost in an adult body that did not protect her needs or stand up for her rights.
As women, we are taught to repress our emotions because they make other people uncomfortable – particularly men.
But your emotions are not bad. They are your guidance system, your compass to navigate the world. They tell you what things or actions are safe or harmful for you.
Few of us have learned healthy ways of standing up for ourselves. We harbor years of resentment and anger that end up sabotaging and damaging our relationships, all because we could not speak up when we needed to.
Repressing an emotion will only cause it to come up later in unhealthy or self-sabotaging ways.
Perhaps your anger forced you to rebel in your teenage years by doing things your parents disapproved of.
Maybe you chose a husband or boyfriend who is wrong for you in an attempt to punish your parents for forcing their will on you.
There are healthier ways to express emotions that can change the course of our relationships and our lives.
A truly empowered woman does not feel the need to be either nice or nasty. She is real, authentic and can express who she is and how she feels in a calm, non-harming way.
She has learned ways to communicate that preserve the dignity of all concerned so that her interactions create win-win situations that are acceptable to all.
When she faces abusive or unacceptable behavior, she calmly and firmly sets boundaries for what is and is not acceptable in her world.
For example, when someone puts you down or says something that makes you feel bad, you can choose to pretend that everything is OK and feel bad about not standing up for yourself.
Or you could choose to say, “Ouch! That hurt. I will not let you speak to me like that.” When you give yourself the permission to be real, you will find it much easier to express yourself freely, without holding back.
Assertiveness is one skill that every woman must learn if she wants to be able to express her emotions in an authentic and non-harmful way.
Learn ways to be assertive, and keep practicing them with everyone you meet – from your rickshaw driver to your boss to your mother-in-law.
Even if it comes out as more aggressive than assertive the first few times, forgive yourself. Accept it as a learning experience and send yourself a mental memo that you’ll do it differently the next time.
As with any skill, assertive and authentic communication takes practice. Do it more often and you’ll get better at it.
“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others”. ~ Sharon Anthony Bower
This is a chapter from the book “Step Into Your Feminine Power And Rule Your World: 24 Empowering Tips for the 21st Century Indian Woman” by Priya Florence Shah. Available now on major online bookstores.