Assertiveness is one of the main components in the competent application of so-called social skills. This capability allows defend one’s ideas, rights or opinions in a respectful but firm way. A very important part in the exercise of assertiveness lies in the type of verbalizations that we make to ourselves in situations that involve a certain difficulty when expressing our will clearly.
In this article we will see how Self-messages can help us build a much more assertive communication style.
- Related article: “Self-instruction Training and the Stress Inoculation Technique”
The stages of action
As Meichembaum (1987) proposed in his Stress Inoculation Model, “self-instructions” can influence the final effectiveness of the expressed behavior, since they influence, at a motivational level, the type of coping that we implement, in the set of feelings generated by that situation and in the kind of cognitions that we are going to develop once the action is finished.
As Castanyer (2014) points out, self-messages or self-instructions operate at four different times configuring both thoughts, emotions and assertive behaviors:
1. Prior to the situation
Usually the mind itself tends to prepare for its future coping by speculating about possible ways in which it can develop.
2. At the beginning of the situation
In this point Anxious thoughts gain intensityand memories of previous situations tend to be activated (both those that have been satisfactorily overcome and those in which the result has been unpleasant).
3. When the situation gets complicated
Although it does not always happen, at this time the most stressful and irrational thoughts increase. Due to the intense nature of the emotions derived from this type of cognitions, the person will archive this part of the experience more easily and stronglyconditioning future similar situations in greater depth.
4. Once the situation is over
At the moment an evaluative analysis is carried out and certain conclusions are drawn about said event.
The person’s experience of each of these four moments is equally important and determining the attitude and final behavior that will be expressed in the feared situation.
Therefore, naturally, the individual tends to collect all types of information to contrast or refute the thoughts that operate in each of the four phases described. For it Comparisons will be made with similar past situations or the verbal and non-verbal language of the other people involved in the situation will be carefully evaluated (“he answered me abruptly, which means he is angry with me and we are not going to reach any agreement”).
- You may be interested: “Assertiveness: 5 basic habits to improve communication”
Strategies to modulate self-messages
These are the different self-messaging applications.
Analyze to what extent the idea is irrational
Given the relevance of the cognitive and emotional analyzes that the specific situation provokes, a key point lies in checking the level of rationality on which these thoughts are based. On a regular basis, it may happen that they are starting overly emotional reasoningabsolute and irrational about these beliefs generated
A first effective strategy to apply can be contrast some of the ideas that come to mind and assess whether they coincide with any of the so-called cognitive distortions that Aaron Beck proposed in his Cognitive Theory a few decades ago:
1. Polarized or dichotomous thinking (all or nothing) – Interpret events and people in absolute terms, without taking into account the intermediate degrees.
2. Overgeneralization: taking isolated cases to generalize a valid conclusion.
3. Selective abstraction: focusing exclusively on certain negative aspects to the exclusion of other characteristics.
4. Disqualifying the positive: it is considering positive experiences for arbitrary reasons.
5. Jump to conclusions: assume something negative when there is no empirical support for it.
6. Projection: projecting onto others distressing thoughts or feelings that are not accepted as one’s own.
- Related article: “Projection: when we criticize others, we talk about ourselves”
7. Magnification and Minimization: overestimate and underestimate the way events or people are.
8. Emotional reasoning: formulating arguments based on how a person “feels” instead of based on objective reality.
9. “You should”: Focusing on what one thinks one “should” be instead of seeing things as they are, without considering the situational context.
10. Labelled: consists of assigning global labels instead of describing objectively observed behavior. The verb “ser” is used instead of “estar.”
11. Personalization: assuming 100% of the responsibility for a situation or event.
12. Confirmatory bias: tendency to bias reality by paying attention only to confirmatory information and ignoring data that contradicts it.
A second fundamental step consists of an exercise of questioning worrying and irrational thoughts through the use of the cognitive restructuring technique, a method that is highly effective within Cognitive Therapies.
Giving answers to questions such as the following, among many others, the level of pessimism or catastrophism can be lowered awarded to the assessment of the imminent event:
- What objective data exists in favor of threatening thinking and what data do I have against it?
- If the irrational thought came true, could you face the situation? As I would do it?
- Is the initial reasoning based on logical or rather emotional foundations?
- What is the real probability that the threatening belief will occur? And what if it doesn’t happen?
Application of self-messages
Finally, the generation of substitute self-messages for the initial ones. These new beliefs must have greater realism, objectivity and positivism. To do this, Castanyer (2014) proposes distinguishing the type of self-instruction that we must give ourselves in each of the four stages previously explained:
Previous self-messages phase
In the “previous self-messages” phase, the verbalizations must be aimed at counteracting anticipatory threatening thinking with a more realistic one and to guide the person both cognitively and behaviorally to carry out active coping with the situation. In this way, it is possible to prevent the individual from generating troubling ideas that may block your assertive response.
Example: “What exactly do I have to do to deal with this situation and how am I going to do it?”
Focus on coping
At the moment of the beginning of the situation, the self-instructions They are aimed at remembering one’s own coping strategies and to focus the person exclusively on the behavior they are exercising at that very moment.
Example: “I am capable of achieving it since I have already achieved it before. “I’m just going to focus on what I’m doing right now.”
If a “tense moment” occurs, the subject You should tell yourself phrases that allow you to endure the situationwhich reduce activation, increase calm and remove pessimistic ideas.
Example: “Now I’m having a bad time, but I’ll be able to get over it, I’m not going to get carried away by catastrophism. I’m going to breathe deeply and relax.”
In the moment after the situation, you must try to make the verbalizations express the positive aspect of having faced the situation (regardless of the result), emphasizing those specific actions in which there has been improvement compared to the past and avoiding self-reproaches.
Example: “I have tried to stand firm and for the first time I have managed to argue my position without raising my voice.”
By way of conclusion: enjoying better assertiveness
As has been observed, the fact of providing pay attention to the messages we send ourselves when we face a problematic situationanalyzing and reformulating them in a more realistic way can pave the way towards greater mastery of assertiveness.
Furthermore, it seems to be very relevant to focus on the moment in which one is acting without anticipating or getting ahead of possible imaginary scenarios that we develop in a pessimistic way and that objectively have a low probability of real occurrence.
- Castanyer, O. (2014) Assertiveness, expression of healthy self-esteem (37th ed.) Editorial Desclée de Brouver: Bilbao.
- Méndez, J and Olivares, X. (2010) Behavior Modification Techniques (6th edition). New Library Editorial: Madrid.