How do I become more assertive?

What is assertiveness?

Being assertive is a skill that allows you to stand up for yourself or other’s right. It means that you listen and talk (rather than dominate or take a back seat), but you still get your point across fairly.

If you’re not assertive, what are you instead?

You might be passive, aggressive or passive-agressive. We’ll go through each one in turn:

Passive – this is when we don’t stand up for ourselves, and other people tend to take advantage or bully us for it. We may have strong feelings but aren’t able to voice these. Perhaps we lack in confidence. Unfortunately, if we never practice trying to be more assertive, our confidence falters even more.

Aggressive – this is when we are very open and angry about what we want, which can scare others or make them defensive towards us. We might shout or be violent.

Passive aggressive – this is when we pretend to be ok, but actually we’re really feeling a strong emotion deep down. It’s not allowing us to be open and honest with what’s happening for us. Instead, we might express some of those feelings indirectly through being hostile, make subtle rude comments, or criticising others.

You might also find this image useful to differentiate between the four types based on openness of communication and consideration for others:

Grid showing assertive, aggressive, passive and passive-agressive on a grid with axes 'high/low openness of communication' and 'high/low consideration for others'

What are the benefits of being assertive?

Generally speaking, you’ll feel better in yourself and have a higher self-esteem if you’re able to stand up for yourself. We don’t tend to feel too great when we’ve been aggressive towards someone, or too passive to say what we really feel.

You’ll also be more respected from those around you. When we get angry or passive-agressive, other people don’t wish to listen to us well, therefore our communication becomes pointless, and their respect tends to drop. If we’re too passive, people might walk over us, therefore not showing us respect in this way either.

Three steps to being assertive

We can use these three steps (or sometimes just 1-2 of them) to help us more assertive.

  1. Explain the situation. Tell them what is happening right now.
  2. Tell them how you feel (this step isn’t always as relevant, e.g. if it’s to a stranger in a shop).
  3. Explain what you would like to happen.

For example, if someone fell out with you and it’s unclear why, you might say: ‘I get the sense that you’re really angry with me (step 1), but I’m confused why (step 2). Please can you tell me what I’ve done? (step 3)’. This would be much more assertive than ‘you’re so annoying, just tell me what I did wrong!’ leading to a more fruitful conversation.

Here is another top tip: try to avoid saying ‘you make me feel…’ to other people. When we put our feelings on someone else, we’re not taking ownership of them. We may also make the other person feel defensive if they didn’t mean to make us feel this way. Instead, try to own your feelings and say ‘I feel….’

Have a go, and see how you get on! You can always practice this skill with various scenarios with a loved one, if this is something that you struggle with.

What if I need further support?

If that’s the case, get in contact with us at Brighter Life Therapy. We provide fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk.

You can also follow us on our Instagram and Facebook for more information about assertiveness and other mental health discussions.

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