Learning to Be Assertive: Part 1

Health Writer

It's hard to stand up for yourself, especially when you have anxiety. You might know what you want, how you want it and know when other people are taking advantage of you. Even so, you find it easier to stay silent than to speak up. You prefer to "not rock the boat." You don't want to disappoint others and don't want to make someone angry.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a balancing act. You express your wants, needs and opinions while at the same time respecting the other person has their own wants, needs and opinions. It is accepting that your rights and opinions are valid. It is accepting that you have the right to be treated fairly and with respect. But it is also accepting the same about others. When you are assertive, you don't intimidate or threaten others but you also don't let others take advantage of you.

When you are assertive, you:

  • Can say "no" without feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Initiate or end conversations
  • Share your opinions and feelings with others
  • Refuse to comply with someone's request
  • Address problems
  • Ask for what you want or need
  • Ask for favors
  • Set boundaries for yourself

Because assertiveness also means you respect other people's rights and needs, part of assertiveness is taking responsibility for your actions. For example, you have the right to make choices but you also have the responsibility to accept the consequences of those choices. You have the right to express your opinion but also have the responsibility of not putting someone else down because of their opinion.

Passive, Assertive, Aggressive

Assertiveness is taking the middle ground. When you are passive, you don't speak up for yourself, you keep your opinions to yourself. When you are aggressive, you believe your opinion is the only one that matters and you attack (verbally or physically) others when their opinion differs from yours. Some examples:

  • Speaking softly - Passive

  • Speaking loudly - Aggressive

  • Speaking in a conversational tone - Assertive

  • Afraid to speak up or share your opinion,   may verbally agree even if it doesn't reflect your feelings - Passive

  • Interrupting, putting someone down when opinions differ, demands that others listen and agree - Aggressive

  • Stating your opinion and listening to the other person's opinion - Assertive

A passive person lives their life with the attitude, "You win, I lose," because he is afraid to speak up. An aggressive person lives with the attitude, "I win, you lose." He isn't willing to accept that anyone else' opinion matters. An assertive person lives with the attitude, "I win, you win," because he values himself and others.

Assertiveness and Anxiety

Being assertive is scary. But, not being assertive is damaging. When you silently sit back and let others take advantage of you or you don't let someone know you are unhappy about a situation, you end up feeling more anxious than before. Add to that the anger, resentment and frustration you might feel.

You might worry that being assertive means you are being mean, pushy, obnoxious. You might worry that other people won't agree with you or won't like you if you speak your mind. Remember, assertiveness is not about putting other people down or pushing your opinion on to others. It is effectively communicating information about you, your needs and your wants.

Learning to be assertive is a positive step toward managing your anxiety. In next week's posts, we wil talk about steps you can take to become more assertive.