How Assertiveness Skills Can Help You to Combat Your Social Fears

Article summary provided by Hillary Greene



People with social anxiety often struggle to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs to others, including being able to say ‘no’ to a request, being able to cope with criticism, or being able to communicate effectively in daily social situations. Increasing your assertiveness skills by using resources such as, When I say no, I feel guilty by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D., can help you cope better in social settings that make you anxious. See details below, which are based largely on the above book (Smith, 1975).



What is assertiveness? 

Assertiveness involves expressing your thoughts, feelings and wishes in a manner that helps you get your needs met while respecting your rights as an individual and respecting the rights of others. Being assertive usually involves clearly stating your thoughts and feelings to someone and clearly stating what you would like to happen in the situation. Assertiveness requires actively expressing yourself to someone, rather than remaining passive. Assertiveness also requires non-aggressive expression that shows respect for you and for the other person. Assertive communication and behavior is important for personal relationships, such as with friends and family members, and for encounters with acquaintances or strangers, such as at work, at a party, in a restaurant or at a store.

How can assertiveness skills help me with my social anxiety?

People who are socially anxious often have difficulty asserting themselves. The worries and fears about feeling judged negatively by others, feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable in a social situation, or performing poorly in a specific setting, such as public speaking, can make it very difficult for someone to be assertive. Although these fears and worries often make assertiveness seem extremely challenging or impossible at times, the good news is that there are resources available that can help someone with social anxiety to function better in social settings through building assertiveness skills. Through increasing assertiveness skills, individuals with social anxiety are more likely to have their needs better met in social settings.

How can I use a resource such as When I say no, I feel guilty (Smith, 1975)to help me increase my assertiveness skills? 

Although there are many resources available if you want to learn more about assertiveness, this book is one specific resource that you can easily find and use on your own to start addressing some of your social anxieties and skill deficits. In fact, this resource might be helpful for anyone who struggles with assertiveness or with setting appropriate boundaries with other people in general.

When I say no, I feel guilty is organized into several parts.

  • The first part of the book teaches you about some of the basic concepts relating to assertiveness and teaches you how your early experiences and anxieties influence whether you behave assertively or non-assertively as an adult.
  • The second part of the book teaches you about your basic individual rights relating to assertiveness. For example, the first right discussed states “you have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself” (Smith, 1975). This section helps you understand your basic assertive rights and understand how social interactions sometimes make it difficult to maintain these rights.
  • The remainder of the book teaches you the core principles and skills you need to learn to become more assertive in your relationships and daily interactions. For example, one section teaches you how to use verbal and non-verbal skills to engage in assertive communication and another section teaches you how to handle criticism from others. Other sections focus on teaching assertiveness skills for specific social settings, such as in a retail setting, in a work setting, or in intimate relationship setting.


Where can I find resources to help me with assertiveness? 

The book discussed in this review, When I say no, I feel guilty by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D., can be found for a low price at many retail locations, including online at

Another book to help with assertiveness, The Assertive Option: Your Rights and Responsibilities by Patricia Jakubowski and Arthur J. Lange, also can be found at retail locations, including online at



Smith, M. J. (1975). When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. United States: The Dial Press.

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