How Can I Be More Assertive When I Have Social Anxiety?

Assertiveness does not mean stepping on other's toes.
Become assertive to overcome social anxiety. Getty / Tim Robberts

Individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) often struggle with being assertive. Being upfront about your feelings and sharing them with others feels hard, to the point that you would just rather keep them to yourself. The problem is, people can't read your mind, so you will often find your needs going unmet.

What is Assertive Communication?

Assertive communication...

  • is the straightforward and open expression of your needs, desires, thoughts and feelings.
  • involves advocating for your own needs while still considering and respecting the needs of others.
  • involves the use of "I" statements, such as "I need some help preparing dinner for our guests this evening."
  • is a way of making sure your needs are met while still considering the needs of others.

Being Assertive When You Have SAD

If you live with social anxiety disorder, communicating assertively may feel uncomfortable at first. Chances are that you have adopted a passive communication style that enables you to avoid conflict but leaves you feeling anxious, depressed and helpless, and causes frustration and discomfort to those around you. Learning to communicate assertively is not selfish, but rather an effective way of negotiating social encounters.

You may have misconceptions about what it means to be assertive.

People who communicate assertively

  • are not pushy or obnoxious
  • do not step on the feelings of others to get what they want, as is the case with aggressive communication

    Instead, assertive communication involves expressing your feelings, needs and desires in a nonjudgmental and nonthreatening way.

    Assertive communication can also be considered helpful to others, because you are giving clear information about what you need to be satisfied. By doing so in a nonthreatening manner, you  give others the opportunity to refuse your requests if your needs conflict with their needs.

    The Importance of Being Assertive

    Still not sure if assertive communication is the way to go?

    Consider that most of your daily encounters will be with people who are communicating and behaving assertively.

    They are telling you what they need from you and expecting you to refuse if their needs conflict with yours. If a request is too large or too difficult, it is up to you to communicate why you can't comply.

    By the same token, others expect you to tell them what you need. Instead of expecting others to read your mind, or hoping that they will guess what you want, you need to be clear, honest and open about your needs.

    How to Become More Assertive

    Assertive statements generally begin with the word "I" and directly express what you are thinking or feeling.

    Notice that being assertive does not mean stepping on the toes of others or berating them. The goal of being assertive is to negotiate social situations in a way that benefits everyone.

    Some examples of assertive statements:

    • "I enjoyed talking with you."
       
    • "I like to watch horror movies."
       
    • "I feel hurt that you talked about me behind my back."
       
    • "I know that the children come first, but I feel sad that we don't spend any time alone."

    To speak assertively, put these pieces of the sentence together:

    1. Start with the word "I."
    2. Add a verb that describes what you are feeling (like, dislike, want, need, feel, love, hate, wish...)
    3. And finish the sentence to describe what it is that you are feeling ("I wish you would spend more time with me, I am feeling very lonely").

    Tip: Keep "you" out of the sentence, keep your emotions under control, and just share what you are feeling.

    Try it again:

    I..

    can't...

    help you with that task because my calendar is full.

    See, it doesn't have to be overly thought out or complicated. It's about being direct and expressing your needs. Once you start to do it regularly, it will feel more natural.

    A Word From Verywell

    The next time that you are feeling angry or resentful, consider how you are communicating. If you suffer with social anxiety disorder, you probably have developed a passive communication style. By learning to be more assertive, you will reduce anxiety and improve your relationships with others.

    Sources:

    Anxiety BC. Effective Communication: Improving Your Social Skills.

    Markway BG, Carmin CN, Pollard CA, Flynn T. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia. Oakland, CA: Harbinger; 1992.

    Social Anxiety Institute. Acting Assertively.

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