Using assertiveness to stand up for yourself

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Using an assertive style of communication in a bullying situation can make a big difference, as you are standing up for yourself, showing that you respect yourself and others equally.

You can be assertive with your voice and your body. It’s a super power we can all learn over time with a bit of support, even if we find communication difficult.

There are three styles of communication:

  1. Passive: Behaving like someone else’s rights matter more than yours.
  2. Aggressive: Behaving like your rights matter more than someone else’s.
  3. Assertive: Behaving like your rights matter equally.

Bullying behaviour can take us all by surprise, and often we respond by being passive, and sometimes even aggressive. When bullying others, people are nearly always being aggressive.

Your assertive voice

Your assertive voice is one which sounds strong, calm and confident. Take a deep breath before speaking and don’t let others rush you. Practice in front of a mirror.

  • Start by practicing saying “no”. It’s a short word, and it’s a very useful one when someone is pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do, or doing something you’d like them to stop. Say it with strength in your voice, clearly, and loud enough to be heard.
  • Be a broken record. Once you’re getting good at saying “no”, try other phrases to stop bullying behaviour in its tracks, for example “that’s mine, you can’t have it”, or “stop now - I don’t like it”. Sometimes in a bullying situation you might need to repeat yourself. Keep saying the same thing again in your assertive voice until they get the message!
  • Fog it out. If someone’s saying an insulting comment, picture a protective fog around you which swallows up the words before they get to you. Your fog can be anything: some people imagine an animal, others a blanket, and others a marshmallow fortress - pick something that makes you feel safe. As your fog catches the bad words, acknowledge the comment with something like “that’s your opinion” or “you noticed”.

Assertive body language

Your body communicates more than your voice, so back up your assertive voice with assertive body language.

  • Hold your body in a way that makes you feel strong and powerful. Practice a “power pose” at home to help you get a feel for it. Hold your head high, relax your shoulders and try not to fidget.
  • Make and maintain eye contact. If eye contact is difficult for you, try looking at the tops of someone’s ears or in between their eyes!
  • Fake it till you make it! You might not start to feel more confident immediately, but you’ll look it. It will soon start to come naturally to you.
  • It can even help if you’re going into a difficult situation - whether at work, school or home - to listen to music that helps you feel strong and powerful and gets you into your assertive persona (share your examples with us!)

Practicing assertiveness

Using your assertive voice and body language helps you respond to bullying in a safe effective way. Communication skills are a life skill, taking time and practice. To help it come more easily, try practicing somewhere you feel safe, with someone you trust.

  • Mirror practice. Get in front of the mirror and practice your body language and voice.
  • The human mirror. Ask a trusted friend or family member to mirror your body language. How do you think they appear? If they’re not looking assertive, try shifting your body language.
  • Look at characters on TV or in films. Watch their body language and their voices. Are they being passive, aggressive or assertive?
  • Role playing. Ask a trusted friend or family member to role play scenarios with you. Think about what a bully might say to you, and try out your assertive responses. Return the favour and help them be more assertive, too!
  • Practice with Kidscape. Our ZAP workshops help you explore and unlock assertiveness in a safe setting with other young people who have experienced bullying.
  • Be assertive as much as you can, not just when you’re being bullied. Showing the world that you respect yourself and others is something you can do all the time - and the more you practice it, the easier it comes. For example, when was the last time you sent back a meal that wasn’t cooked properly, or told a friend or family member that as much as love them, what they said upset you? Stand up for yourself at all times, and eventually, it will be part of your life!

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