It’s not uncommon, especially when you’re new to creating healthier boundaries through being more honest about who you are, including expressing limits, saying no, or articulating what you need, want and expect, to feel shaken by your assertiveness. You might experience physical sensations or feel guilty as you replay events over in your mind. Even though you’ve technically been successful in your asserting yourself, how you feel afterwards is at odds with that. What’s going on here, and how can we stop feeling so shaken by being assertive?

When we feel shaken after showing up, speaking up and stepping up for ourselves, our body, based on previous associations with assertiveness and, for instance, conflict, might feel like we’re in the danger zone. Danger, by the way, for humans, can simply mean unknown, unusual, new. Our subconscious does a super quick scan of our mental files on the situation and flags it as ‘bad’ because of previous negative experiences. Or, it flags the situation as ‘foreign’ and ‘bad’ because assertiveness is so unusual. Our body does what it’s designed to do and sends a fear response. We might also be angry (a sense of injustice accompanied by fear), and experience a surge of adrenalin.

Our nervous system remembers everything.

When we’ve spent much of our lives covering up hurt, anger and, yes, injustice with the likes of people pleasing, hidden feelings of being violated, mistreated, etc., come to the fore. A younger version of ourselves panics that we’re ‘back there’ (in the past) and uses our emotions and body responses to communicate its fears. Let’s say the fifteen-year-old version of us wouldn’t have spoken up. Our inner child still exists and feels overwhelmed and expecting doom. But we’re not in the same situation as before, which is the joy of having healthier boundaries — they break with the past.

When we feel shaken and stressed after asserting ourselves, it’s not because of our being ‘wrong’. We haven’t done a bad thing. Instead, in recognising that we’re engaging in new habits that feel threatening to our sense of safety, we need to reassure and calm ourselves. For example, breathing exercises, journaling, getting a change of scenery, talking through what happened with a trusted loved one or therapist, and affirmations (e.g. I am safe. I am secure.)

Rather than feeding the feelings and worry and anxiety thoughts, we need to differentiate between the past and present. Where are we? What’s happening? Is there anything bad happening? We need to acknowledge that we’re not in danger, that we are okay. Sometimes, this also means reminding ourselves of why we asserted ourselves in that situation. We need to notice what’s actually happened versus what’s going on in our heads. The more assertiveness becomes a habit, the less shaken you will feel by it. Your support will help to update your ‘files’ with evidence that you can be okay after asserting yourself.

For more help with boundaries and saying yes and no more authentically, check out my latest book, The Joy of Saying No.

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