Healthy self-esteem is sorely lacking among many Asian Americans. While some can try and hide behind their careers, wealth, beauty, family connections, or accomplishments, its become apparent that our culture has done a poor job in building self-esteem.

Healthy self-esteem is rooted in our uniqueness as human beings and not on what we can do or produce in this world. It is based on the security of knowing that you have worth and value just for being alive. But if your parents did not experience this sense of unconditional love in their own families, then there’s a strong likelihood you may have a distorted view and understanding of security, self-esteem, and recognition of your own self-worth in relationship to others.

Asian American clients are often the least assertive and least likely to express their thoughts and feelings in the context of their relationships with others due to their cultural heritage of harmony and collectivism. While there’s nothing wrong with harmony per se, it does impact your sense of self-worth when you begin losing your own “voice” for fear of rejection or ridicule.

This lack of self-esteem can crop up in the work world. Asians have been viewed as being obedient, loyal, good workers who don’t complain on the job. On the same token, their allegiance to obedience precludes them from taking a stand and asking for what they may deserve in their careers.

I had a couple of female clients who felt they deserved a raise or at the very least more responsibility in their respective jobs. Unfortunately, they believed as Asians that their work would be good enough to garner the recognition and advancement they deserved. But in a traditional work setting where Asian men and women are the minority, this is where you are most likely to be passed over for a promotion. Why is that? It’s because few of us were ever taught the necessary skill of assertiveness and confrontation. Confrontation should not be seen as a negative word. It is simply the act of addressing your thoughts and desires to another human being. Sure, there may be anxiety and fear surrounding the encounter but these types of interactions need to happen otherwise you risk losing respect to your boss and thus erode your own sense of respect for yourself.

In both cases, I was able to coach them to set up a time to meet with their bosses privately, express their displeasure of being passed over by stating in a clear and firm voice, “I’m not happy working here and this is why…”. The simple act of expressing this thought was both liberating and frightening for them as this type of assertiveness was never encouraged at home.

In the end, both of the women got what they wanted. But I reassured them that the point of the encounter wasn’t necessarily to get a raise or promotion but to teach them the skill of being comfortable to ask for it. There will be instances when a boss or supervisor will reject your requests, but what’s important is sending them the tacit message that you will stand up for yourself. And by doing so, you will gain the respect from your boss since your boss can only respect you as much as you respect yourself.

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