The Assertiveness Guide for Women: 5 Skills to Be Assertive

The Assertiveness Guide for Women

The Assertiveness Guide for Women (2016) helps readers improve their communication skills and develop the skills of assertive communication.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, the author, addresses assertiveness from a holistic perspective, including attachment styles, individuation, and general self-development. 

Summary

About the Author: Julie de Azevedo Hanks is an American licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. 
She holds a Master of Social Work, from the University of Utah (1995), and a Ph.D., in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana.
She owns her own counseling practice and has 28 years of counseling experience, specializing in women’s emotional health and relationships. She is an assistant professor of social work at Utah Valley University, and also runs an online blog.

1. What It Means to Be Assertive

Assertiveness is about treating yourself as an equal with others and taking ownership of your well-being while respecting others’ differences.

2. The 5 Skills of Assertion

The author says that it takes five skills to reach assertion:

1. Self-Reflection: Thinking and understanding who you are. Looking at your development, your relationship patterns, and how your past impacts your ability to be assertive.

2. Self-Awareness: Awareness of your feelings, wants, and needs, resulting in a sense of confidence about what you want to communicate (while self-reflection is more focused on general, high-level awareness, self-awareness is more about present, “in the moment” awareness)

Says the author on the benefits of cultivating emotional awareness:

In summary, awareness of your feelings as sources of information is at the heart of developing self-awareness, a necessary component of acting assertively. You cannot act assertively if you aren’t tuned in to your internal experiences and cues.

She adds that emotional awareness includes both your feelings, and what others are likely to feel (empathy).

3. Self-Soothing: Ability to manage your intense emotions and soothe yourself. Striking a balance between appreciating your emotions, without becoming overwhelmed by them. It leads to a sense of calmness, which allows you to clearly assert yourself and convey your intended message.

Assertiveness comes from a place of emotional awareness but not emotional volatility.

4. Self-Expression: Ability to communicate your feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants clearly to others (communication skills), along with a willingness to back up your words with action. Good self-expression leads to stronger and deeper connections with others.

Sharing your honest feelings in meaningful and powerful ways with others, in word and action, plays a large part in the development of healthy intimacy and connection with others.
One memory aid that helps with this concept is to imagine that the word “intimacy” is pronounced “intomeesee,” as in “into me, see”—as though a request: “Will you see into me?”

5. Self-Expansion: Openness to other people’s points of views, accepting them as being, “holding space” for differences, and the desire to grow through your relationships. It leads to compassion, as well as to stronger relationships. 

Too often, differences between people result in a power struggle of whose opinion or feelings or ideas are “right” or “better.”
It absolutely does not have to be this way! An assertive woman can “hold space” in a conversation—and in her mind and heart–for another person’s unique perspective or experience

3. Thoughts & Feelings: Seek the Overlap

Feelings are emotional, in your heart, while thoughts are more rational, in your mind.

The goal is to operate from a position in which the two overlap, feeding into each other to help you reach the best solutions for you.

Says the author:

The ability to create a healthy working distance from your emotions is a process.
The goal is to be able to separate thoughts and feelings in your mind, and then act from the place where they overlap.

I very much agree with this approach, and you can see how it was helpful for me when I faced a difficult decision, and the enlightened moment arrived when I let go of perfect rationality, and finally listed to my feelings.

4. Attachment Styles: Understand Yours to Reach Assertiveness

The author goes deep into attachment styles.

Attachment theory is based on the assumption that we are emotionally interconnected with one another and we want to form emotional bonds with others.
The way form and approach emotional bonds can be more or less healthy, and it’s in good part based on our attachment styles.

There is already much on this website, see:

And check this out:

How do attachment styles overlap with assertiveness?
Well, the author makes a good case that there is a strong overlap.

She has an overview that by itself is worth the price of the ebook but, as a quick wrap-up:

  • Anxious: Is hesitant. Is afraid to speak up for fear of creating distance or rejection;
  • Avoidant: Is guarded. Has difficulty dealing with emotions, seeks an unhealthy detachment, prefer to “shut up”
  • Secure: Is confident. For him, it’s more of a question of communication skills

5. Differentiation: How it Impacts Assertiveness

This part is based on the differentiation aspect of Family Systems Theory as developed by Murray Bowen (Brown, 2013 for an overview).

The author reminds us that we are born with the desire and capability of forming relationships with others.
But we are also individuals with our unique feelings, wants, and needs.

So we are both unique individuals, and interconnected with others.
Says the author:

Our ability to navigate the tension between our desire for individuality and our desire for connection through relationships is called differentiation.

Schnarch defines differentiation as:

“Differentiation is the ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others—especially as they become important to you”

And it also includes the ability to be authentic, and engage others from a place of authenticity rather than a “fake persona” that some people develop in order to avoid conflicts.

So, how does differentiation exactly impacts assertiveness?
The ability to be assertive is essentially an expression of differentiation.

Says the author:

Assertiveness is a way that you express difference while remaining connected

But very low-differentiation individuals might see assertiveness as a threat to the whole.
if you see your partner or family members as a single unit, you might repress your expressions of differentiations.
And if they see you as part of an undifferentiated unit, they might repress your expressions of differentiation. 

Family Impact on Differentiation & Assertiveness

  • Low-level differentiation family (emotional fusion or enmeshment): they consider the family as a single unit, and resist a family member’s attempt to assert herself in ways that challenge family norms, rules, or threaten family identity”
  • High-level differentiation families: accept a broader range of behaviors and expressions of unique feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants without feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or threatened as a unit

More Wisdom

  • The emotionally closer you are, the more challenging it is: the closer a person is to you emotionally, the harder it may be to assert yourself to him or her when a difference arises, especially when it comes to vulnerable emotions like fear and loneliness

Real-Life Applications

  • Stop using biting humor and then saying “I was joking”: that’s passive-aggressive, and makes you come across as slimy. Also see “micro-aggressions“.
  • Avoid starting with accusatory “you..  “: also see “criticism“, based on John Gottman’s research

Quotes

We have a built-in system to help resolve emotional hurt, too; it’s called attachment! We are designed to heal through healthy relationships.

Closing quote of the book:

It is in the entrances and exits of life that the meaning and purpose of living comes into focus. Life’s purpose is to connect deeply with each other and to learn how to love.

CONS

  • Sometimes feels there is some feminist / left-wing trope

In this passage it feels like the author wasn’t too happy at her grandmother advice on femininity:

“Always sit with your knees together” (thanks, Grandma) 

That’s not bad advice from her grandmother.
A woman manspreading sends low-quality woman signals, and there is much power in being feminine.

Sometimes it felt like the author overplayed the role of culture and downplayed the role of nature in influencing people’s behavior and mindsets.

  • Sometimes a bit too psycho-analytical / Freudian

The author prods the reader to think about their first memories as children, asking if they are accompanied by connection or disconnection.

And then, with the example of a patient who had a great childhood, writes:

Her story illustrates that all of us, even those from caring, dedicated families, have wounds or developmental gaps rooted in our early childhood experiences

I see it differently.
Maybe it illustrates instead that if you look hard enough, you will always found some issue -and maybe because you were looking for it, not because there was some “hidden childhood trauma”-.

This is not scientific, and sometimes it leads people to worry and “cure” problems that aren’t even there.

That being said, these are very small cons in an otherwise great book.

PROS

  • Novel approach to assertiveness

There is a ton of books on assertiveness, and some just rehash content.

Not Julie de Azevedo Hanks.
She truly adds a unique perspective and, in my opinion, she truly adds unique wisdom that was missing in the literature.
Namely, the link between attachment styles, individuation, and assertiveness (or lack thereof).

  • Very good analysis on self-esteem, happiness, and mental control

Also see “antifragile ego“.

Review

“The Assertiveness Guide for Women” is an awesome book on communication skills, assertiveness, and general self-development.

Albeit, as the author says, it’s written by a woman and for women, I found it to be quite gender-neutral, and men can learn a lot from it as well -I certainly have-.

It’s the only book on communication skills and/or assertiveness I have read that connects the dots among attachment styles, differentiation, and assertiveness.
And that made a lot of sense, Julie de Azevedo Hanks really enlightened me on this topic. It helped me to better understand how these all-important concepts are indeed interlinked. 

Check out the:

Or get the book on Amazon

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