Sometimes people are confused about what assertive behavior is. At times, the term aggressive is used interchangeably with assertive.

I use the following definitions:

  •  Assertive behavior is any behavior in which you stand up for your self – through expressing feelings, thoughts, opinions, or actions – while also respecting the rights and feelings of others.
  •  Passive or non-assertive behavior is any behavior in which you do not stand up for your self, and do not reveal your feelings, thoughts, or opinions, but defer to others when it is not in your best interests.
  •  Aggressive behavior is any behavior in which you stand up for your self without respecting the rights of others – expressing your feelings, thoughts, opinions, and actions in ways which intentionally hurt or control others emotionally, mentally, physically, or sexually.

Differential socialization of men and women has led to assertive behavior sometimes being perceived differently in them.  We may expect assertiveness from men but then judge women negatively when they display the same behavior. If you know what assertiveness is and isn’t, it can help you in evaluating whether others’ judgments of you are accurate.

You can choose not to assert your self without that necessarily meaning that you are not an assertive person.  Possible reasons can be that you fear for your safety (when dealing with an aggressive person), that you deem it not in your best interests (with your boss), or you don’t care one way or another.

For those in difficult relationships, I encourage evaluating a situation to know what the risk of assertiveness is.  Particularly in situations where there has been abuse of any kind, it is important to assess the safety before choosing to be assertive.


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