Last Updated: 20 October 2013
There are a number of texts on the subject of assertiveness available today. The subject of assertiveness of course is referenced in numerous places in this Psychology section, tieing into topics such as focus, self-belief, fears and phobias and the mechanism of motivation including the moving away from pain and moving towards pleasure. To explore this topic in its entirety would mean examining all of the above topics and more. This page is then a compilation of references from the above topics, which may inspire the reader to read further.
As discussed on the Personality Types page, assertivness is a key quality that you want to cultivate, but not at the expense of other personal qualities. Assertivness is often associated with the 'Red' personality type, according to Taylor Hartman's Color Code.
Fear of a certain 'type' of person, a fear of adverse weather conditions whilst driving, fear of being assertive, fear of the reaction of other people, fear of crime, all lead to excessively paranoid behaviour or thoughts. An example of fear of being assertive or of the reation of a particular person is often based on our attaching great significance and meaning to their power and importance, and their right to their position and their right to their hostile feelings that we imagine we will receive if we try to be assertive with them; and little belief behind our own - a belief that we have no right to our feelings of frustration at an imbalanced or inappropriate situation where we have allowed a person to tread on others toes, start slacking or become arrogant. If you don't believe in yourself (you don't deserve it) and you do believe in the other person (that they do deserve their 'unreasonable stance' or 'hostile feelings towards you), then you may fret for minutes, hours or even days about an upcoming 'confrontation', when the actual reception you receive is calm and relaxed, as it is reasonable in nature, and that you fretted about it all for nothing - like a 'bad trip' or 'negative, paranoid fantasy'. The core negative belief, besides inflating the other person's power and importance, is a fundamental belief that we aren't worth it or don't deserve the right thing. A negative fantasy is all about the other person's imagined response and them, rather than about you. Try to identify this happening in yourself. It is also important to try to see things from the other person's perspective, and the possible issues they may have with you also, that you could perhaps improve on, which would put your own brievances or requests in a better light.
The right amount of confidence is required, that comes across as effortless ease. Not too little and not too much either. We are not suggesting that one should be mindlessly overconfident either, to the point of self-deceipt and arrogance, denying reality, not listening or observing what is really around us - this would be instead seeing a positive fantasy version of what is around us; and far from wisdom.
This is discussed in more detail on the Belief page.
Examples of phobias or fear could include giving a presentation, complaining, being assertive with a certain person, e.g. a family member or colleague (the belief that you simply CANNOT say what you think with them, when in reality it is no big deal, and once they are used to it, they won't 'freak out' - if they expect you to be scared of being assertive, they will cement their position with you, until you change your position with them, when the balance simply readjusts). More information on the levels of thinking, often associated with fear, can be found on the Personality Types page.
Phobias are discussed in more detail on the Focus page in the Phobias section.
As discussed on the Focus page in the Stress in Extreme Situations section, an inability to act in survival situations is also a self-confidence issue, that people may tend to not trust their own instincts, not have enough confidence in their own instincts, and do not want to stand out. They must be wrong and others must be right. Their opinion or instincts are not worth much. People are scared of standing out and want to be invisible in the crowd, like everyone else, as they are used to anyone who stands out getting stick from others, which they may well do themselves to make themselves feel better. Similar to how children behave at school. People often prefer to go along with a bad situation in the hope that it will go away rather than create a 'fuss', and if it gets worse, will still ride it out and not speak up, hoping that it can't get any worse etc. Some people do not have the self-confidence or the self-belief to stand up and be assertive and do something different from the crowd, even if there is a possibility they might die if they don't. The fear of making a 'fuss' is greater than the fear of possible death. For many people, being 'normal' and fitting into the crowd, and not sticking out is one of their main motivators in life - to do what is expected of them and no more, never mave waves as it requires confidence and 'balls'. Do you want to live your life like this? Too scared to ever be yourself or assert yourself? Does that even count as being alive?
Venting 'steam' and aggressive or defensive behaviour (whether to the source of the perceived stress or aggressiong shifting) is not the same as being confident or assertive. Those who cannot express themselves and assert themselves with ease and confidence in daily life or in certain situations are those that tend to build up the most pressure or tension and are most likely to 'blow off steam' on someone in an inappropriate manner. Aggression is not really a sign of relaxed confidence and positive beliefs about the self. It is a very low-level form of expression, used as a last resort when other strategies have failed (e.g. being passive, doing or saying nothing and letting one get increasingly wound up - yes, this is a choice and a strategy, albeit a rather unhelpful one). Confidence may be possessed in pockets, i.e. compartmentalised, in certain situations, and maybe absent in others. Aggression is the poor cousin of confidence. Learning and nurturing assertiveness rather than aggression more healthy for being who one wants to be and minimising the amount of frustration that builds up; and is more conducive to a happy and relaxed existence.
The Milgram experiment is discussed on the Focus page also in the above section, in the context of the average test subject being pressured into doing things they would not normally do, as they believed a certain behaviour was expected of them (by authority or peer figures), including the 'electrocution' of a believed test subject in the next room.
Problems in developing social skills, or 'social effectiveness', may be a cause of some social anxiety disorder, through either inability or lack of confidence to interact socially and gain positive reactions and acceptance from others. The studies have been mixed, however, with some studies not finding significant problems in social skills while others have. What does seem clear is that the socially anxious perceive their own social skills to be low. It may be that the increasing need for sophisticated social skills in forming relationships or careers, and an emphasis on assertiveness and competitiveness, is making social anxiety problems more common, at least among the 'middle classes'. An interpersonal or media emphasis on 'normal' or 'attractive' personal characteristics has also been argued to fuel perfectionism and feelings of inferiority or insecurity regarding negative evaluation from others. The need for social acceptance or social standing has been elaborated in other lines of research relating to social anxiety.
Emotional Vampires, individuals with various acquired sociopathic and manipulative personality traits, are relevant here also as they will feed off your emotions and create situations where they get their emotional needs met at your expense etc. - and require an assertive approach to re-establish the lines of respect.
The Controller - people who have an opinion about everything and must always be right, and try to control and dictate to you how you should think and feel. They may invalidate/dismiss you or put you don't if you don't fit into their set of rules that they've arbitrarily created. They'll prescribe solutions to you all the time. It serves to leave the recipient of this control feeling dominated or patronised. In a way, they represent the negative blue personality, the scolding parent role. Or perhaps the negative side of the red personality. It is hard to control the controller, unless they do have a more impartial side to their character and just got 'carried away in the moment' through tunnel vision. Healthy assertiveness or pointing out the facts as opposed to dictating to the controller what he or she should believe is a shrewd strategy. Focus on the main issue rather than the peripherals, and if necessary, tell the person that you value their advice but would like to try to work through it on your own right now. Or simply avoid!
We may be the type of person who is habitually motivated solely by pain in most actions, especially those requiring any kind of assertiveness or relationship management. We may see a situation or relationship heading in a certain one way direction, which will require our assertive input when it reaches 'critical mass' and we can't take it anymore. But until then, we may watch or give in to situations or events that we do not like or to be pushed around in. We sit there like a passive observer and receive our 'due lot of punishment' until we have reached our threshold where we only reluctantly become motivated to act to stop the train of events and situation. We feel better about putting it with it because we know we will be assertive later and gain our satisfaction then. But why go to all this trouble? This is a highly inefficient and psychologically unhealthy way of handling assertiveness issues. Why not act now and stop this nonsense (their nonsense and your nonsense) right away?
Saccharine Trust: A Human Certainty (Pagan Icons):
'I only cry wolf when all my sheep are dead'
Breaking through limiting beliefs and negative behavioural responses to situations that call for assertiveness and remaining true to oneself include the following commonly known exercise. One picks examples of situations that one finds stressful, and one deliberately seeks out such a situation in order to overcome that fear. Usually one starts off small, but one can throw oneself in at the deep end with the fear level at maximum. Once one gets started, this can become rather like a sport, where one deliberately gets into awkward situations just to prove that one has no fear about them and can act cool, calm and effortlessly confidence, but clearly listening to what is around you with sensory acuity, not becoming oblivious to anything where you might be totally out of your depth or developing danger signals.
If you are indecisive about most daily decisions, then likely to lack the practice of simply deciding, or do not regularly analyse what is really important in reality of the pros and cons - looking at pros and cons in a vacuum with no real world experience will likely send you in circles. Don't feel that you have to take up every offer or opportunity that presents itself, just because it's there. Do it because you want to do it or because it's right for you. Get into the habit of asking the right questions to build up that self-knowledge. Otherwise all these things will just distract you from doing or being what you want.
As discussed on the Anchors page, it pays to get yourself into a peak frame of mind before making any kind of important decision. In this 'zone', you will also find that you have more confidence and are able to deal with situations that call for assertiveness.
Assertiveness and confidence is key to acquiring and finding a peer group that helps to develop your personality. Many people with low self-esteem tend to hang out with any peer group that happens to come along, or whoever will accept them, rather than taking charge and choosing the one they really want or formulating their own 'scene' and becoming a leader. This area is examined in more detail on the Peers page.
One's personal body language is important in influencing and asserting oneself, and in standing one's ground, in social situations. It is no good believing that you are doing the right thing but your body and facial expression give th signal to the other person that you can be dominated or abused as you are a 'wet blanket'. Body language, albeit from an animal perspective, which is very similar to that in humans, is discussed on the Animal Body Language page.
Finally, Influence and techniques to use to best get the desired result from people is discussed on the Power to Influence page. This involves getting a connection with people and empathising with them, prior to delivering the 'assertiveness package' - to avoid engaging the Parent-Child dialogue, as defined by Eric Berne on the Personality Types page.
Remember that assertiveness issues can come under two categories.
- Dealing with a given individual where you default to a certain mode of apologetic, timid or submissive behaviour, and where that person expects you to do this and acts accordingly. Here one may simply need to alter one's behaviour and the person simply adapts accordingly - or you may experience a shocked reaction and a temporary period of adjustment (perhaps with sulking or grumpy behaviour) which usually quickly goes back to a healthy balanced relationship once the person gets used to treating you with respect. It is tempting during the adjustment period to revert back to one's previous apologetic behaviour and spoil the entire effect. Remember, you don't have to lower yourself or apologise to be assertive!
- Dealing with a new individual. This person does not know you and does not know what to expect, so is looking out for signals. This is an opportunity to act in a healthy manner rather than submissive manner, as the person will likely not mind at all. However, if you default to a submissive, apologetic manner (apologising for your existence), then the person will likely act accordingly - although not always. With every such encounter you have the opportunity to practise being assertive, so you should try to take it as it is much easier in this environment, especially if you never see the person again. Experiment! No one will care afterwards.
Remember at the end of the day that you are as important as the next person, if not more important. You are the person who has to look after you! You matter! So do not accord the other person a huge amount of significance and rights, and yourself none whatsoever. This is not shrewd. Look for strategies to reduce the importance or credibility of the other person in your mind if this helps. Recall the person's flaws and embarrassing character defects. Is this the person whom you should fear and respect? If you do not respect the person, you should not care what they think.
It is all very well being motivated in one's head after in the event, to not get into that situation or let that pass again, but it is quite another to carry that 'theoretical motivation' and 'theoretical assertiveness' into the situation again when it reoccurs. Many of us have experienced the 'I won't do THAT again' promise to oneself only to totally become submissive and apologetic when the situation arises again. Making the mental pain after the next occurrence even more intense (temporarily, before we forget the association). If you are having issues with this, remember that you may experience a little discomfort whilst confronting the situation, this is normal - if you don't then you aren't doing anything different psychologically, you are not creating new neural pathways and you would otherwise be in your old behaviour that you hate so much.