From Dr. Jane's Notebook


Assertiveness Revisited


Assertiveness gained a bad reputation in the 1980's largely because it was confused with "Aggressiveness". Our society frowns upon aggressiveness, especially for women, and so, many people remain confused about how to assert themselves effectively. This article will attempt to distinguish between assertiveness and aggressiveness by using these definitions:

Assertiveness (Justice). When people are assertive, they respect other people's rights, and they respect their own. Your feelings are important, and my feelings are important. Your needs are valid and my needs are valid. This is an approach which values fairness and consideration for both you and me.

Non-Assertiveness (The Doormat). When people are non-assertive, they respect the rights of others, more than their own. Your rights are more important than mine. Your feelings are more correct than mine. What you want is more important than what I want. This approach is often adopted in the interest of being polite, not hurting the other's feelings, or avoiding conflict. The results often cost alot in built-up anger.

Aggressiveness (Raging Bull). When people are aggressive, their respect their own rights and ignore the rights of others. My feelings are more important than yours, my wants are more valid than yours, my feelings count more than yours. Aggressiveness often seems like an explosion of emotion. It is toxic to others.

Being Non-Assertive leads to Aggressiveness. When we allow ourselves to be treated like a doormat, the hostility builds. It is hard to be a doormat for very long. Sooner or later, we reach the point of rebellion. Aggressiveness is not always verbal. We can secretly act out our anger in less noticeable ways, or be openly hostile. This too is expensive because it leads to feeling guilty. Once the guilt of being a raging bull sets in, we are likely to return to non-assertiveness doormat behavior and start the vicious cycle once again.

Recipe for Assertiveness. We are often called upon to decide what is fair between other people. At those times, we try to look at both sides of the issue. We often have to determine priorities when conflicting needs exist. We're pretty good at doing this for others, but it is difficult to be objective when it comes to our own situations.

When faced with a situation in which you want to be fair to yourself and fair to the other person, first step back from the situation. Don't feel pressured to react immediately, but carefully consider the problem at hand, as you would for others. When you have decided how you feel and what you think, express yourself clearly and caringly. Be democratic and diplomatic in your approach.

Becoming assertive creates rewarding change. It may seem risky and daring to stand up for yourself, but others will respect you for it.

ęCopyright, 1992, 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All Rights Reserved.

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Last Updated October 24, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.