Assertive Beliefs

Assertiveness is not a personality trait but rather a learned set of behaviorsAssertive behavior expresses what we think and feel in ways that are respectful to others.  If we have not grown up with assertive models to learn from, we may not know how to be assertive or even feel we have that right.  Some people believe that being assertive is being rude or un-feminine.

No one is assertive 100% of the time.  Knowing our thoughts and feelings is a process, and sometimes it requires some time to think through.  Learning to be more assertive is also a process, one in which it is helpful to stop being judgmental of yourself.

The following is a list of mistaken assumptions* that commonly underlie non-assertive behavior. The corresponding assertive beliefs are in italics. 

Notice what non-assertive beliefs dominate your life and try one or more of the “To Do” suggestions for affirming the assertive ones.

  • It is selfish to put my needs before others’ needs.  I have the right and responsibility to put myself first; it is healthy to have my needs be important also.
  • It is shameful to make mistakes.  I should know an appropriate response for everything. It is human to make mistakes.  I am okay when I make mistakes.
  • If I can’t convince others that my feelings are reasonable, then they must be wrong or crazy.  Feelings are not right or wrong; I have the right to be the final judge of my feelings.  I can accept my feelings, and can accept the rights of others to feel differently.
  • I should respect the views of others and keep my differences of opinion to myself.  I have the right to have my own opinions and convictions.
  • I should be flexible and adjust; it’s not polite to question others.  I have the right to protest unfair treatment or criticism.
  • Asking questions reveals your stupidity. Questions reveal a desire to know.
  • I shouldn’t take up others’ valuable time with my problems.  I have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
  • Accepting compliments or talking about your achievements means you are bragging and have a “big head”.  I have the right to feel proud of myself; that does not mean I think I’m better than others.
  • I should always say yes to others, or else they won’t be there for me.   I have the right to say no, and can grant others the right to say no as well.
  • I have to justify everything I feel and do.  I have the right to have my opinions respected and do not need to justify myself to others.
  • I should always help people and do everything I can to please them.   I have the right not to take responsibility for others’ problems.
  • I should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others even when they haven’t told me what they want.  I have the right not to anticipate others’ needs and wishes.
  • I have to give an answer whenever someone asks something even if it feels intrusive.  I have the right to choose not to respond to a situation.
  • I must respond assertively to every situation.  I have the right to choose to be passive and to come back with a response when I’ve had a chance to think it over.

To Do: 

  1. Choose one belief to work on and write it several times, listening for any thoughts that disagree.  These are your roadblocks to work on.
  2. Write an assertive belief(s) on a card or something you will see often.  This will remind you of the new belief and help you to become more comfortable with it.
  3. Ask a trusted friend to tell you the new belief in the second person. For instance, “Jane, you have the right to put yourself first.” Listen, take it in, and notice how it feels.

If any of these are awkward, it’s only a sign you have more work to do. It takes time and work to become comfortable with a new belief.

* Adapted from Davis, Eshelman, & McKay, The Relaxation and Stress Management Workbook, 1988.


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