To be assertive is to assert oneself. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines this as, “to insist on one’s rights, or on being recognized.” To be assertive is to “own” what you need. This includes your emotions. An assertive individual places responsibility for that ownership on him/herself. This person communicates in such as way that people listen and are not offended, giving them the opportunity to respond in turn. To be assertive is to act, and react, in an appropriately honest manner that is direct, self-respecting, self-expressing, and straightforward. This type of behavior instills self-confidence that is goal-oriented and is defined by aboveboard negotiation where rights are respected. Assertion is, however, a manner of behaving that needs to be practiced. Few of us are raised to be assertive. Part of this practicing is recognizing that assertiveness has two opposing behavior styles. These are: passiveness and aggressiveness. Let’s clarify these by defining them.
Passiveness. Passiveness is allowing others to choose for you. It is being emotionally dishonest, indirect, and self-denying. It is saying that “everything is fine” when it isn’t. This type of behavior often leads to anger as a result of keeping score while denying things to others. This concealed anger erupts unexpectedly at the slightest provocation. A passive person believes that concealing anger is a way of controlling it. But, it is really controlling the person. The eruption is usually out of proportion to the event due to having been held down. Passive people are usually burdened with myths about needing to be the perfect spouse, parent, provider, etc. And part of this myth is they must never become angry. There are times when each of us chooses to be passive. And this is healthy. However, for the most part, being passive will not get your needs met and it confuses other people. The passive person believes s/he should never make anyone uncomfortable or displeased, except for themselves. Dealing with passive people is difficult because they aren’t straightforward and they are known for the “surprise attack”.
Aggressiveness. An aggressive person wants to have an inordinate amount of control over him/herself and everyone and everything else. This person feels a need to choose for others and is “honest” to the point of being tactless and rude. This person is constantly working toward self-enhancement, with no thought to the other individual. The aggressive person sets up situations so they will be sure to win and they achieve their goals at the expense of others.
Passive and aggressive behaviors are both the result of low self-esteem. And both patterns are based upon fear. The passive person manifests this fear by being quiet and compliant while the aggressive person is loud and pushy.
Assertiveness. The opposite of these two is assertiveness, which is based on rights, self-esteem, and getting one’s needs met without infringing on the rights of others. The assertive person may, at times, choose to behave passively. But the difference between behaving passively by choice and feeling the need to be passive is the word “choice”. The assertive person has options. The passive person does not.
Practice becoming assertive by using the following assertiveness training exercises to communicate clearly and specifically to anyone with whom you have contact. When dealing with others:
Describe the other person’s behavior in non-judgmental terms. It is not your place to determine what is right or wrong for someone else. Your values are not necessarily those of someone else. By assuming your viewpoint is the correct one, you are closing off any opportunity for open communication.
Voice your feelings using “I” statements. No one can make you feel anything. Your responses to others are your responsibility. Placing the burden on someone else often leads to resentment.
State your needs clearly and specifically. Generalized requests lead to generalized responses. And these are usually disappointing.
An assertive person takes care of him/herself, which results in having needs met and being free to work toward goals. Take time to become an assertive person. You’re worth it!
Copyright 2011 Lynn Brown
© Lynn Borenius Brown and The Loving Path, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lynn Borenius Brown and The Loving Path with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.