Learning to Assert Yourself and Use Your Voice

Joella Ranaivoson

October 22, 2023

“There is a time for everything…
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7).

From Silent to Speaking Up

Someone cuts you in line at the movie theater concessions stand; the waiter at the new restaurant you’ve been waiting to experience brings you the wrong order; your friend says something hurtful and doesn’t register the way your face has fallen; your partner forgot to do the thing they said they would do. Normally, you might let each and every one of these things slide. You might let the obnoxious line-cutter through without a word, drink and eat the order like it was what you wanted, pretend and cover your hurt with a laugh; or take care of it yourself when your spouse didn’t follow through on their words. But maybe today that time is up. You feel like you’re ready to burst. That’s because your voice is coming through. The time of silence has ended. It’s time to speak up.

When we learn to speak up and assert ourselves, we use the God-given, essence-bearing gift that is our voice, we unlock aspects of ourselves, we discover our gifts, and fulfill our purpose that have been waiting for us. These have been waiting for our yes to their invitation that is stirred up in our souls by God to embody a fuller expression of yourself, one that is true to yourself, honest, clear, authentic, truth-telling, and loving yourself as you seek to love others.

Socialized into silence

Most of us, depending on our childhood social groups, are socialized as we grow up to keep silent, to keep some parts of ourselves to ourselves. We are taught, either directly to ‘be quiet’ or indirectly silenced when we are criticized or shamed for expressing ourselves. So, we learn to withhold, not speak, not share, to protect ourselves, to be ok, to be safe. And in some circumstances, it's quite protective and may even keep us alive to heed those prompts or warnings. That part of you was trying to keep you safe. And it did its job.

Now as we grow older and hopefully wiser, there comes a time when our old coping ways of keeping the peace by keeping silent becomes it's own burden. Protecting ourselves by not using our voice becomes the very thing holding us back. Our old armor becomes what suffocates us. When you sense this, trust it is God inviting you over a threshold into the next phase of being, of stepping into using your voice, trusting and asserting yourself, and speaking up. You’ve outgrown the armor. Time to shed.

This can be very terrifying as it requires a change in the way you’ve lived until now. But you can trust it and you can do it.

What circumstances are compelling you to speak up?

Something may have happened in your life, some circumstance, event, relationship, that requires you to use your voice in a way you haven’t before. Or perhaps nothing new has happened, you just feel a stirring to step into using your voice. These promptings are here on purpose. Things just aren’t working like they used to anymore. You're less willing to participate in self-suppression. This is a wonderful time to spend some time with the Lord to see about this invitation coming from inside of you to assert yourself, to see how God would have you use your voice.

There are consequences to using or not using your voice

You may find that if you keep silent, you may ‘keep the peace’ outside but start a war within yourself. 

Self-betrayal becomes untenable at a certain point. Our inner being will start to scream and protest to where we can’t ignore it. If we do, other things may come our way to get our attention. Our bodies may get sick, or we get injured, or we lose a job, or we lose a relationship, some circumstance in life will compel you to re-evaluate your relationship to yourself and to life, to your voice. It’s never a punishment, always an invitation. It is always better, my friend, to honor God and honor yourself by speaking up and speaking your truth. It is always better to disappoint someone else than to disappoint yourself or deny how God is inviting you to step into your power and use your voice. It is ok to show up for yourself.

Your voice will make those uncomfortable who are used to you being silent. Some will rejoice with you using your voice; others will be alarmed. Use it anyway. Those waiting for your voice will be drawn to you and resonate with what you say.

Take small steps

As you step into using your voice, learn to speak up in ‘small’ things. Use those circumstances that don’t have a potential for huge or damaging ramifications for your life to stretch. For example, if the waiter brings you the wrong order, you can calmly and kindly inform them, “I didn’t order this, I ordered that.” That’s you practicing assertiveness and using your voice even in that ‘small’ circumstance. And the world won’t end at you being assertive and expressing your needs with a food order at a restaurant (or it shouldn’t anyway).

Eventually, this practice will spread out into the rest of your life. As you learn to speak up for yourself and trust yourself, your body will feel safe to start expressing how you feel and what you need in other spaces. In your relationships, for example, being able to say what you feel and what you need, without worrying if that will overwhelm or put off the other person.

Asserting yourself and using your voice is your work

When you express your truth and use your voice, it’s important to understand that the work is done on your part. You’ve said what you needed to say, hopefully with love and respect, but others may still not like it, not respect what you’ve said, or do what you’ve asked of them. It’s important to become okay with that. Using your voice does not equal them agreeing or complying. These are two separate things. Your partner might still forget next time to follow-through; you’ll need to forgive them and talk with them about following through again. Your friend may deny that they hurt you or act like it’s not a big deal (it’s okay to get some different friends, by the way). The waiter may not be gracious at your correcting them; the line-cutter might get aggressive. We are all on journeys of learning to receive each other and sometimes it doesn’t go well when someone dares to speak up and assert themselves. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up. Instead, it means we must practice and learn to take things in stride, knowing not everyone is in the same growth momentum. But you are on it. So keep going.

Assertiveness is not aggressiveness

Assertiveness is not aggressiveness. Assertiveness is saying what you need and where you are in any given moment. The intention is to communicate and express yourself as a form of a connection, caring simultaneously for both yourself and another by letting them know what you need: speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Aggressiveness is being hostile or violent. If you’re feeling like you want to lash out or put someone else down, that’s not assertiveness, that’s stumbling into the realm of aggression. It’s important to practice self-awareness and be clear about where our intention is coming from. We can speak up and use our voice without being hostile and violent.

Also, it’s important not to let anyone manipulate you into believing when you assert yourself you’re being aggressive. There is a distinction. When you know yourself and your intention, this will become clearer.

When you are newly stepping into your assertiveness and using your voice, this may be foreign to certain relationships you have. So, allow for some space and time for the other parties to adjust to this version of you now: this you who is expressing yourself and using your voice. Give them an opportunity to accept and appreciate your newly asserted voice; and hopefully, they will.

If they can cope with and even celebrate this shift, they care for your flourishing and your becoming your full self. If they can’t or won’t, I’m sorry to say, those people liked you not using your voice. They aren’t your people, they aren’t for you then.

It takes practice

When you first begin to speak up and use your voice, don’t expect to be fluid or to do it without any trepidation. Don’t put that expectation on yourself. The more you use it, the stronger and more easeful it will become to do so. Speaking up and using your voice is a skill, a practice that must be engaged in to deepen into confidence and fluidity with it.

Your time of being quiet is up. Time to speak, time to use your voice.

About the author — Joella Ranaivoson

Joella is an artist using words in writing, songs, and acting to convey truths about being human. Storytelling is the joy. Everything feeds everything, so take it all in and let it feed your creativity.

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