Sheryl Sandberg’s book titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has prompted a lot of discussion about career oriented women and the challenges they face.
Although Lean In primarily relates to women in the workplace, I have noticed in my work with women that there is a global struggle around women’s comfort level when identifying and articulating needs and wants. Too often, women follow up their request with an apology, a hedge, or an undoing of whatever it was they mustered up the courage to ask for. Some women fear being labeled a bitch, while others worry that they are going to seem burdensome or greedy. Ultimately, many women end up couching their requests in a way that belies their true desires. When that happens long enough in a person’s life, it can be difficult to even know what one wants or needs.
Unfortunately, so many women have been programmed to be givers/accommodaters that they have stopped feeling empowered to ask for anything in return. They have associated needing, wanting, and assertiveness with being unkind–which is not the case. Being assertive and being kind are not mutually exclusive. The same thing goes for being assertive and likable. Too many women have difficulty imagining a scenario where they can be both assertive and likable. There is room to be both.
I realize that this may sound simple to say and difficult to accomplish, but it is an actionable and achievable goal in the therapy room. We can work to understand how the negative self-talk began, why it persists, and how to make changes in a global way.
Perhaps it is time for a redefining of what it means to be an assertive woman that strips off the pejorative connotation and allows for a more flexible and positive outlook.
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