I am not a confident person and I never have been. I do not feel able to stand up for myself; this lack of confidence is putting a strain on my relationships. Recently I have been put under pressure from my family and I don’t feel like I am confident enough to speak for myself at all. They think they know what’s best for me and, as I don’t say anything back, they assume it’s OK, but it isn’t. How can I get the confidence to make my own decisions?

Like most families, I’m sure yours believes they have your best interests at heart and, as they don’t know how you’re feeling, there is nothing to give them pause to question whether they are right in their choices for you.

You probably feel that if you were to stand up for yourself, this behaviour would come completely out of the blue and would cause conflict.

Becoming assertive in personal relationships when you feel you lack a voice is not always easy, but it is possible if you start small and work up to dealing with the bigger issues when your confidence has grown. Many people mistake assertiveness for aggressiveness, but developing the skill of voicing your own opinions and clarifying how you feel about something will help to redress the balance in your relationship with your family and give you greater control over your own life.

It will also help to underline the fact that you are an adult and, as such, are capable of making your own decisions. I feel they still treat you as a child and are reluctant to relinquish their responsibility for you.

So how can you do this effectively and still maintain a positive relationship with them? Well, when you’re being assertive you use language, both body and spoken, in a confident and positive manner. So first identify a small thing that your family tries to control that irritates you. Define in your mindwhat you want to achieve and make it non-negotiable, in other words you need to be confident you are not going to back down on the issue beforehand, because if you capitulate that will send out a message of submissiveness. You need to stay strong. Next, plan for when the issue arises again by visualising and rehearsing what you might say, how you might stand with your head held high, your shoulders back, making enough eye contact to show you’re serious and keeping your tone of voice strong, but upbeat.

Initiate the conversation by acknowledging you understand how they feel, but finish the sentence by counteracting that with how you feel. Be aware that your feelings of anxiety will rise, but once you have explained yourself these will begin to diminish.

Keep practising until you’ve mastered feeling confident.