In order to be a happy, healthy adult living with ADHD, an important skill to develop is assertiveness. When you are assertive, you are able to express your needs and feelings in a firm and polite way without hurting others. Common feedback I hear when I suggest learning to be assertive is, ‘Oh, but I don’t want to be too assertive’. The good news, it’s not possible to become ‘too assertive’, because then, you become aggressive, which isn’t our aim.
If we think of a scale from 1 to 10; 1 is passive and self-sacrificing, 5 is healthy and assertive, and 10 is inconsiderate, arrogant and self-centred. This gives a nice visual to show that you can’t be too assertive because then, you move away from being assertive and into the arrogant and demanding terrain.
Wikipedia describes assertiveness as:
‘Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.’
One of the reasons why learning to be assertive is important when you have ADHD is to reduce angry outbursts. Anger is a common problem with ADDers. Clients often come and see me because their anger outbursts are getting them in trouble at work, at home and in traffic.
Many ADDers feel bad about themselves, feel that they are disappointing the people in their lives and have low-confidence. So they suppress their feelings and needs, and their general default mode is self-sacrificing (1 on the scale). However, this is dangerous, because resentment grows under the surface and then something happens and ‘all of sudden’, they fly into an angry rage. Some people don’t get angry; instead, they are depressed, anxious and feel stuck. If you are practicing assertiveness and are communicating your needs in a timely manner, then you will neither have rage or depression.
Benefits of being assertive are:
1) Feeling empowered. You know you can take care of yourself in all situations
2) Feel connected to others; instead of resentful or fearful
3) Less stressed
4) Increased physical health
5) Increased mental health Ex. Less depression
6) Improved relations with everyone in your life
7) Less conflicts
8) Less anger outbursts
9) Feel ok if someone has a different opinion to you (you don’t take it personally)
10) Reduced feelings of being walked over or taken for granted
Becoming assertive is a learnable skill, involving communication skills, personal boundaries and knowing that your feelings count.
Here are 6 steps for assertive communication:
1) Get clear on how you feel before you start communicating. If being assertive is new to you, you might need to take time beforehand, to get clear on this before you communicate.
This can be hard for ADDers because they don’t know if it’s ‘ok’ to feel like this or if it’s acceptable.
Part of becoming assertive also means developing confidence in your feelings. If you feel it, it’s real. You don’t have to back up your feelings with stats, you just have to know that if you feel happy, sad, frustrated, etc. it’s real and you are honoring those feelings by being assertive.
2) Use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. You aren’t trying to blame others; rather, you are expressing how you feel. For example, don’t say ‘you make me feel…’ instead, say ‘I feel…’
3) Use non-verbal communication as well as verbal. Maintain eye contact and an open body posture.
4) Talk calmly in a clear voice. Don’t shout , get angry or whisper.
5) Listen to the other person, even if you don’t like what they are saying.
6) Throughout the communication, remember one of the key goals of assertiveness is to stand up for your needs so that you aren’t being taken for granted or bullied by others.
When you start to practice assertive skills, you are shaking up what is normal for you. It can feel scary. However, the benefits are definitely worth it in the long run.
Here is another article about ADHD and assertiveness.