The Value in Becoming Assertive

By Sandy Abell –

Passive. Assertive. Aggressive.  You’ve probably heard these three words but you might not be familiar with their meaning or how they fit into your life.

All three words refer to modes of behavior and ways of approaching and dealing with life. You act in a passive manner when you choose to ignore or suppress your own needs in order to meet the needs of others. As we’ve mentioned, for the convenience of others you might have been taught to be passive as a child. In return for being quiet, “not rocking the boat,” not ”making waves,” and being cooperative and undemanding, the significant adults in your life met your physical needs, and hopefully your emotional needs as well. It was a bargain: When you were a good boy or girl, they made you feel valuable, lovable and safe. In the process, you may have learned to be passive.

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Being passive involves giving away your personal power and trusting others to meet your needs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. One thing passivity does is it slowly erodes your self-esteem and sense of being a capable, competent person.

Take Maria for example. As a child she was raised to always be cooperative and never say no to others. Now, as a 34-year old adult, she has trouble standing up for herself. When a coworker asks her to cover for him and work an extra shift, Maria says, “OK, I guess so, if you really need me.” She gives this response even though she already has plans that she now has to cancel. She chooses to be passive and meet the needs of another at the expense of her own.

You act assertively when you choose to stand up for yourself without attacking or putting down another person. You make a conscious choice to take responsibility for meeting your own needs, while also choosing to not take away the rights of another in the process. Assertive behavior enhances your sense of personal power and self-esteem.

If Maria had chosen to respond assertively when asked to work late, she could have said, “No, I’m sorry that I can’t. It’s not convenient for me tonight.” This response would have met her needs without attacking or harming her coworker.

Aggressive action is choosing to meet your own needs at the expense of another, or when you purposefully attack or demean another in the process of taking care of yourself. Aggressive behavior temporarily increases your sense of personal power, but decreases your self-esteem.

Back to Maria. She could have acted aggressively by saying, “Absolutely not! I can’t believe you’re so lazy as to leave early and expect others to cover for you! I’ll never understand why you were hired in the first place!” With this response, Maria would certainly have made her point that she wasn’t free to work, but also unnecessarily attacked her coworker in the process.

We all have moments when we act in each of these three ways. However, the healthiest and most conducive to personal growth is to be assertive most of the time.

When you choose to act assertively, the people in our life may initially resent their loss of control over you, or be angry that you’re now putting yourself first and them second. They might try to make you feel guilty about your behavior, and label you as selfish, inconsiderate, unsympathetic and uncaring. Their goal is to evoke guilt so you will stop whatever you are doing to take care of yourself and resume taking care of them.

It’s important for you to know which people in your life try to control you with guilt and suffering whenever you become assertive. It’s also important to know that you have a right to take care of yourself and meet your needs. Give yourself permission to do this regardless of the reactions of others.

You might find it helpful to look at the people and situations in your life and identify where you act in each of these three ways. If you’re not happy with the outcome, choose a situation, act assertively and see what happens and how you feel.

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The Value in Becoming Assertive
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