Sunday, August 17, 2008

Assertive Communication

In the process of moving toward sexual health, it is important to develop assertiveness communication skills. Not only is this relevant to expressing thoughts and feelings but it is relevant to sexual expression. It is important to communicate with your partners what you like and need sexually. At first, this style of communication may feel artificial. It should be seen as a template and helpful tool. It is not the only way to communicate, but it is a start. There are many formulas that can be helpful in learning assertive communication. The formula I like has three parts. “I feel __________Because __________I need ___________.”

I’ve expanded this to include

I think/I feel ______(state your thought or feeling) ____

Because _______(explain what triggered the thought or feeling)______

I need/want/would like _____( express the request) ________

I expanded the formula because it allows for robust application. For example, I will often ask people what they are present to. This is my way of asking “what’s going on inside.” It may be a thought, a feeling, a memory, or trigger, connected to the current moment. The “because” is a simple explanation of the moment. It should be “short” and “sweet” and explicitly connected to the moment. Finally, it is important to explain the request. The key is to be clear, specific and measurable. Note that the expansion reflects the distinctions between “needs,” “wants” and “likes.” Too often we confuse the level of importance by our language. Someone might say, I “need” a cell phone, but the reality a need is a basic requirement. I need food, or I need to be treated with respect or I need you to stop touching me etc. To be accurate, the term that should be used is “I want” or “I would like” a cell phone.

Some pitfalls to avoid is the passive approach toward communication. A classic example is “Would you like to . . .” which is often used in place of “I would like. . .” Other dangerous forms to be avoided are “We” statements. Use “I” statements instead. Also, on the other end “You” statements are often more aggressive. “You should . . .” is better replaced “I want” or “I need.”

In applying this to concept to sexual health, being able to assertively express your requests is a significant component of sexual health. Also, setting boundaries and limits become a major related issue as well. In expressing feelings, sexual desires, assertiveness is a major skill. This is only a brief introduction to the concept. If it relevant, please follow-up with your therapist.

Examine your sexual history. How has the lack of assertiveness related to your behaviors? What is the role of thoughts in your ability to be assertive? Often, shame for example, is a belief that I’m not worth anything. If I’m not worth anything, I might be hesitant to ask for what I want and/or need. I may also fail to set limits when someone asks me to do something that I don’t want to do.

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