To be a caring person, and to show it, seems to be a “high-risk” style in our society. How sad for all of us that we make it so difficult for warmth to be expressed openly! After all, expressing your warm feelings for another person is a highly assertive act that makes you and your loved ones feel good — with the action itself more important by far than the words you use.
Here are some ways of communicating that message:
• A warm, firm, and extended handshake.
• A hug, the squeeze of an arm, an arm around the shoulders, an affectionate pat on the back, the squeeze of a hand held affectionately.
• Sincerely warm words, such as: “Thank you.” “You’re great!” “I really understand what you mean.” “I like what you did.” “I believe you.” “I trust you.” “I love you.” “I believe in you.” “I’m glad to see you.” “You’ve been on my mind.”
• A warm smile.
• Extended eye contact.
• A gift of love (made by the giver, or uniquely special to the recipient).
None of these messages is new to you. Yet you may find it difficult to allow yourself to do or say them. It is too easy to be hung up on embarrassment, or to assume: “She knows how I feel,” or “He doesn’t care to hear that.” But who doesn’t care to hear that? All of us need to know we are cared about and admired and needed. If those around us are too subtle in their expressions of positive regard, we may begin to doubt, and perhaps to look elsewhere for human warmth.
We all need positive contacts with others. Therapists encounter many, many clients who are unhappy precisely because they are not getting such “strokes” in their lives.
Imagine the following scenes:
• While you are wandering alone at a large gathering, a stranger walks up to you and starts a conversation, and you no longer feel anxious and lost.
• Three days after you arrive in a new neighborhood, the couple next door come to welcome you with a pot of coffee and a freshly baked cake.
• During your visit in another country, you are looking in vain for a street sign. A native appears and asks, “May I help you find something?”
Thoughtful acts like these are not only strokes for the receiver, they produce warm feelings for the person who reached out assertively. People often hesitate to initiate contact in these ways for fear of rejection — a common excuse for avoiding assertions! Such initiative involves concern for the other person, and some courage of your own. Yet, realistically, who could reject such a kindness?
Don’t wait for others to take the initiative. Take the risk of reaching out! It’s a key means of caring about yourself and about others, and an important step toward greater assertiveness and more fun.
Adapted from YOUR PERFECT RIGHT: ASSERTIVENESS AND EQUALITY IN YOUR LIFE AND RELATIONSHIPS (8th Ed.), by Robert E. Alberti, Ph.D., and Michael L. Emmons, Ph.D. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, Inc., PO Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423. Phone 1-800-246-7228.
ROBERT E. ALBERTI, PH.D., is a psychologist, marriage and family therapist, Fellow (Psychotherapy) of the American Psychological Association, clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and author/co-author of several books, including million-copy bestseller YOUR PERFECT RIGHT: ASSERTIVENESS AND EQUALITY IN YOUR LIFE AND RELATIONSHIPS. His work has received international recognition as the "gold standard" for psychological self-help. MICHAEL L. EMMONS, PH.D., is a psychologist in private practice, consultant to educational, government and business organizations, and a trainer of marriage and family counseling interns at California Polytechnic State University.