It can be difficult to assert your needs, especially depending on the relationship with whom you need to set limits. Oftentimes people have opinions on how you should do things, or even why you should not do things. It takes significant personal strength to stay on track, assert your needs, and do you when others try to knock you down (whether they do this intentionally or not).
Some people worry they are mean if they tell someone they will not do something, or tell someone they do not like the way they are treating them. There is a difference between assertive and aggressive behavior. Just because you stand up for yourself is not “mean,” as long as you don’t do it in a mean way!
Assertiveness: Requires being upfront about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others. When you are assertive, you ask for what you want but don’t necessarily get it. This is based on balancing your needs with the rights of others.
- If you do not get what you ask for, you can change your own behavior accordingly, still setting a limit with that person or behavior.
Aggressiveness: You do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. Sometimes this is impulsive due to your lack of communication to begin with, and you can hurt someone’s feelings or do something you will regret.
- If you tend to be an aggressive person, or even enjoy it, consider how awful this actually makes you feel. You are often hurt more internally and in terms of overall health than the person you are mad at.
Example: Assertive or Aggressive?
- A friend has been pushing and pushing, commenting on the way you are eating (disapproving – this diet is less fun for them) and frequently complains about your change in lifestyle. This person is negative in general, so this added negativity is too much to bear.
- Aggressive. You do not say anything for so long, finally during a moment of criticism by your friend, you explode. You yell at the person, tell them they are a bad friend, criticize them for not working on their own health – the word lazy may even come out.
- Assertive. In a calm moment with the friend, you have a talk about your needs. You tell them you value the friendship, but right now you really want to work on your health. You tell them you enjoy spending time, but the negative comments are dragging you down and you need to be able to stay on track while still having friendship time. You tell them how valuable the friendship time is, also for your overall welling.
- You also tell them if the negativity cannot stop, or they cannot support your goal, you will need to stop spending time together for a while or even end the friendship.
- Some people find this last statement mean, but it is not. You are kindly asserting a need, and stressing how serious this need is. Right now, your personal mental and physical health is important, and this person is jeopardizing that.
Passive Behavior: Failing to express your rights, needs, feelings, or desires or communicating them in an indirect or apologetic way (or hesitant, joking, or self-deprecating way). Allowing others to “walk all over you.” Allowing your rights to be violated in the belief you have fewer rights, or more responsibilities than others, and that you have less personal worth than they do.
- This is not good, stems from low self-confidence, and can flop to aggressive behavior when you are fed up. This type of behavior will further keep you from gaining the confidence to meet your goals. Passive individuals may give up on their goals often and put others first, because they do not want to “hurt” anyone by asserting their needs.
Developing assertiveness is highly important in meeting your personal goals. Be firm in what you want, take the time to develop a plan, and consider your barriers over time. Pay attention each week to those moments that get you down, upset you, or push you off meeting your goal. If this relates to another person, even your job, problem solve ways to talk to them. Understand your needs, and assert them confidently, firmly, but without being harsh. Do not let other people dictate your needs, and take control of yourself and your health in a way that does not hurt anyone else and you are on the right path!