Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finding Your Voice

For both teenage girls and adult women, asserting yourself and finding an acceptable way to ask for what you really want can be a challenge. There are social and cultural messages girls get growing up that contribute to women being more hesitant to speak up, and more likely to defer to the needs of others.

Sometimes women grow up thinking that if they find the right partner, he will intuit your needs. You won't have to speak up. This, however, is not a healthy expectation. Even if you find a caring, genuine partner, all adults need to learn to sort out their own internal experiences, give direct feedback in a constructive way, and ask for what they need emotionally in relationships. No one ever reads your mind. There is no perfect relationship that doesn't need any of your input or requests for adjustments.

One safe way to ask for what you want is to put it in this assertion formula: "When you_______________________(other person's behavior),I feel_____________________(your feeling), and next time, I'd like you to____________________________(their behavior. This little assertion recipe, if delivered in a calm and respectful way, will guarantee that you that you are asserting yourself appropriately, not too aggressively.

It can also be helpful to consider the transactional analysis concept of ego states: we each have an inner child, critical parent, nurturing parent, and an adult ego state within us. If we stay in our inner child state, we are afraid to tell others what we need, and we wait passively hoping that those closest to us will read our mind, as if by magic. If we are stuck in critical parent mode, we attack others if we don't get what we want or need. If we come from the adult ego state, we express our needs appropriately and clearly, and listen to the needs of others. In our adult state, we make compromises and solve problems together, communicating from our inner adult and trying to "hook" the other person's adult state.

Finding your voice is a lifelong task. You can get better and better at it. Communicating effectively in an appropriate way feels good, and increases your self-confidence as an individual. Effective communication in relationships takes both people operating at a healthy level. How is your partner ever going to hit the mark without your input? While you can't build healthier relationships all by yourself, you can know that you are doing your personal best to be honest, open and expressive in your most important relationships. Sometimes amazing things happen when you communicate more openly and maturely and see what happens. You can change the dance steps in most relationships by changing your own.

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