Learning to say no. Learning to state your wants and needs while respecting other people, is a valuable skill. Do you find yourself running around trying to please everyone because you don't want to hurt their feelings? Do you end up exhausted and resentful because no one asks what you need? Maybe you find yourself making snarky little comments because you are sick to death of taking care of everyone. And once in awhile you find yourself exploding, yelling and screaming because you just 'can't take it anymore.' If you can relate to any of this, you're not alone!
In talking about what assertiveness is and how to be assertive, I often find it helpful to first discuss what assertiveness is not. Other ways to interact with people include being passive, passive-aggressive and aggressive. Let's look at each of these and see which ones you can relate to.
Passive: If you Google passive (as I just did!) the definition you would find is, 'accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.'
That's a perfect description. Often people will talk about being a 'doormat'. Or about letting others 'walk all over me.' Being passive increases anxiety and depression. Is it any wonder? It is so difficult to walk through life and let everyone dictate what your world looks like. What actions you take. What you think. Even who you are. Being passive can be exhausting!
Passive-aggressive: It was a little harder finding a definition for passive-aggressive. If you Google it, mostly you find examples of what it looks like. According to the urban dictionary passive-aggressive is, “A defense mechanism that allows people who aren't comfortable being openly aggressive get what they want under the guise of still trying to please others. They want their way, but they also want everyone to still like them."
That looks like as good a description as any. I call it those snarky little comments people make when they are angry at what is going on but too scared to really speak up. People who are passive-aggressive are trying to speak up for themselves, they just don't know how.
Aggressive: I had trouble finding a good definition of aggression. No worries, it's easy enough to describe. Aggressive people use intimidation to try and get their needs met. People who are aggressive are not ‘bad’ people. Usually they don’t know how else to get their needs met. Sometimes people will yo-yo from passive to aggressive because they don’t know how to communicate assertively.
Physical aggression is what most people think of when they talk about aggression. Punching, hitting, slapping other people or objects to instill fear and get their way. But there is verbal aggression also. With or without yelling, with or without profanity. Verbal aggression is berating and belittling or wearing a person down to get your way.
Assertive: Assertiveness is the middle path. It is speaking up for yourself and stating your wants or needs in a respectful and firm way. It's NOT speaking up and demanding the other person behave the way you want them to. (That's aggression!) Assertiveness is about taking back control of your life. It involves understanding who you are, what your boundaries are and expressing them to the people in your life.
Being assertive is a great way to decrease anxiety and depression. You don't have to worry about the whims of those around you because you make decisions for your life. You won't beat yourself up for not being everything to everyone (which is impossible anyway!) Or shame yourself for taking care of yourself. Or find yourself always upset, angry and resentful that no-one does anything for you. Being assertive means you get to tell people what you would like from them.
In addition to creating Bodhi Counseling, Melanie Sivley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Champaign, IL. She specializes in Anxiety, Depression and Trauma. She is EMDR trained and currently pursuing her EMDR certification.
Melanie Sivley, LCSW
206 N. Randolph, Suite 505B
Champaign, IL 61820