How to Be More Assertive

Do you frequently struggle to be more assertive?

  • Maybe you wish you felt more comfortable expressing your views and opinions in front of others?
  • Or maybe you wish you could be more confident saying no and setting boundaries?
  • It could be that you simply want to get better about asking for what you really want.

As a psychologist, I believe that assertiveness is the most under appreciated skill in all of mental health and wellbeing.

Everything from burnout and anxiety to procrastination and low self-esteem are often a direct result of not being assertive enough.

In this guide, you will not only learn how to be more assertive, but you’ll also discover a deeper understanding of what assertiveness is, how it works, and why it’s so in almost every aspect of your life from relationships and work to hobbiesand spirituality.

Feel free to jump to any section using the following links:


Assertiveness and The 4 Communication Styles

As we’ll talk about later, assertiveness is more than just a way of communicating. But assertive communication is a good place to begin to understand the more general concept.

There are 4 styles or types of communication:

  • Passive Communication
  • Aggressive Communication
  • Passive-Aggressive Communication
  • Assertive Communication

Whenever you communicate with people—whether you know it or not—you’re using one of these styles.

Let’s briefly go through each and describe what it looks like and where it comes from.

1. Passive Communication

The passive style of communication is all about keeping your head down and avoiding conflict.

It often takes the form of “going with the flow,” consistently giving in to other people’s requests and demands, and holding back from expressing your own desires and preferences:

  • Pizza tonight? Well… Okay, sure, that sounds great! (Even though you really wanted Indian.)
  • Drive back into town to pick up a six pack for you? Yeah, no problem, I like driving anyway. (Even though you’re exhausted and spent all day running errands.)
  • Take on another new project and work on it all weekend? Yeah, of course, I can do it, boss! (Even though you promised your family you’d go hiking on Saturday.)

Notice that passive communication doesn’t mean not communicating at all or saying nothing. Instead, passive communication usually takes the form of going along with whatever someone else suggests despite not actually wanting to.

Also, while the passive style of communication may appear somewhat passive in terms of what you say, it’s often anything but passive in terms of what you do.

People with a passive style of communicating often look extremely busy and active because they’re constantly rushing around and working hard to take care of everyone else’s requests of them.

An overly passive style of communicating is one of the biggest sources of both chronic stress and burnout.

2. Aggressive Communication

The aggressive style of communication is the reverse of the passive style: Rather than doing whatever is asked of you by others, you try to force others to do what you want, even if it’s at the expense of their own wishes.

Put another way: In the passive style you give up an unreasonable amount of control over your own life, but in the aggressive style you try to take an unreasonable amount of control over other people’s lives.

A few examples:

  • If I have to eat that goddamn lasagna one more time I’m going to lose it! You better find something else for dinner and quick.
  • Obviously yelling is the only way to get anything done around here.
  • Get out of my office and don’t come back ’till you’ve got something half-way intelligent to say.

A consistently aggressive style of communication is almost always a response to fear and insecurity.

Just like many playground bullies act the way they do in order to feel powerful and compensate for the bullying and fear they experience at home, most adults who use an aggressive communication style are acting out of a sense of fear and helplessness (although they’re often in denial about it).

While aggressive communication can feel empowering in the short term because it’s an ego boost, the long-term results are never satisfying and often make those feelings of insecurity worse.

For example, over time, most people who overuse aggressive communication end up alienating the most important people in their lives and feeling increasingly alone and isolated, which only feeds their insecurity

3. Passive-Aggressive Communication

Passive-aggressive communication is a combination of the passive and aggressive styles.

It’s usually an attempt to get your way or express your frustrations and dissatisfactions while simultaneously avoiding responsibility for the consequences.

For example:

  • Gossip, or talking badly about people behind their back, is a form of passive-aggressive communication where you vent or undermine someone while trying to avoid the consequences of doing it directly.
  • Sarcasm is a common form of passive-aggressive communication that lets you “get a jab in” at someone but avoid taking the blame because it was “just a joke.”
  • Intentionally doing a task poorly so that you won’t be asked to do it again in the future is passive-aggressive since it allows you to get what you want and avoid the discomfort (or possible rejection) that comes from asking for it directly.

Passive-aggressive communication often works in the short term, but almost always leads to poor results in the long run. This is because the people around you eventually become so frustrated and upset with you that it can cause major relationship strife and loss.

And because people who regularly use the passive-aggressive style understand that they’re not being totally honest in the way they relate with people, chronic guilt and anxiety typically build up over time.

4. Assertive Communication

Assertive communication means that you clearly and respectfully ask for what we want and say no to what we don’t want.

  • Pizza tonight? Actually, I’m kind of tired of pizza… How about Mexican food?
  • This report still needs a lot of work. Why don’t you take a closer look at it with Tom from accounting and get back to me in a couple days?
  • Hey boss, I’m having some trouble collaborating with Julie on the Johnson account. I think it might help if we had more clearly defined roles and objectives on the project.

Many people mistake the directness of assertive communication for rudeness or aggressive communication. Usually, this is because they were trained early on in life to be overly accommodating or deferential.

These people imagine themselves being assertive, and it feels pushy, rude, or somehow disrespectful. But if you grew up thinking passive was good, than anything more direct than that is, of course, going to feel wrong.

Still, assertiveness is almost always the most effective way of interacting with people because it’s A) an honest expression of how you feel and what’s important to you, but also B) respectful of others.

In other words, assertive communication means respecting yourself and other people in the way you communicate.

To get a better sense of what assertiveness is let’s try to visualize it…

The Assertiveness Matrix

One way to better understand the four communication styles is to visualize them in terms of two key dimensions: Respect for Self vs Respect for Others.

If you think of communication as being either high or low on each of those dimensions, you get the four styles of communication.

I call this The Assertiveness Matrix:

Assertiveness Matrix Wignall

Assertive communication is usually the ideal way of communicating because it’s the best of both worlds: You’re high in respect for yourself and your own wants and needs, but also highly respectful of the other person.

Of course, just because it’s ideal doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Far from it. There are some very real obstacles to communicating more assertively as well see.

To learn more about assertive communication, listen to this podcast interview I did with assertiveness expert Dr. Randy Paterson →


Why Is It So Hard to Be More Assertive?

Of course, communicating assertively isn’t easy for most of us, at least not all the time and in every situation.

Most people have a hard time communicating assertively because—in one way or another—they’re afraid.

  • We communicate passively and just go with the flow because we’re afraid that people with think badly of us or judge us if we express what we really want. Or because we don’t want to deal with the drama and guilt that would go along with standing up for what we want.
  • We communicate aggressively and put others down because it briefly makes us feel powerful and confident and alleviates our deeper fears and insecurities.
  • We communicate passive-aggressively because we want the satisfaction of expressing our anger or hurt but we’re afraid to take full responsibility for expressing it.

In each case, we tend to avoid assertive communication because we’re afraid of how we or others might feel as a result—angry, guilty, anxious, disappointed, etc.

And while employing one of these three less optimal styles may help you avoid conflict or difficult feelings in the short-term, they almost always lead to negative results in the long-term:

  • In the passive style, we feel chronically dissatisfied with ourselves, ashamed that we can’t stand up for what we want or believe, which leads to increasingly low self-confidence and poor self-esteem.
  • In the aggressive style, we become socially isolated, lonely, and even depressed because people in our lives are afraid to interact with and open up to us.
  • In the passive-aggressive style, people lose trust in and respect for us and often are chronically frustrated and irritated because of our flaky and responsibility-avoidant behavior.

On the other hand, there’s often temporary discomfort and blowback when we act or speak assertively:

  • Speaking up for what we want and believe can produce temporary anxiety and nervousness.
  • Sharing how we really feel leaves us vulnerable and may expose our insecurities and fears.
  • Taking responsibility for our actions is difficult and requires a lot of work sometimes.

The initial discomfort of assertiveness can be even stronger when the people in our life aren’t used to us acting this way.

For example: after years of you just “going with the flow” whenever your spouse suggests a family vacation, they might be surprised when you all of a sudden say no and suggest an alternative

Others may say or imply that you’re selfish by not going along with their requests. Or your attempts at being more direct and respectful may be met with initial doubts or mistrust.

But ultimately, the habit of communicating assertively—of clearly and respectfully expressing your wishes and feelings—leads to the best outcomes in the long-run.

Speaking of which, here are some of the most important benefits that come from learning to be more assertive…


The Benefits of Learning to Communicate Assertively

The benefits of learning how to be more assertive are too many to list entirely.

But here are a few of the most common and compelling reasons to work on becoming more assertive in your communication:

  • Decreased social anxiety and need for approval. As we become more skilled at expressing our own beliefs, wants, and needs in a direct and respectful way, we gain valuable evidence that we don’t need to worry as much about disapproval as we imagine. Learning to be more assertive is the best way to decrease your social anxiety and FODO: Fear of Disappointing Others.
  • Become more relaxed and less stressed. One of the ironies of the three unhelpful communication styles is that they require a lot of work and energy. Once the initial emotional blowback of being more assertive fades, it’s a far more efficient and relaxing way to go about life. Becoming more assertive is one of the best ways to decrease chronic stress and burnout.
  • Increase self-confidence and self-respect. If you chronically avoid expressing what’s genuinely important to you, you’re teaching your brain that your own wishes and values are not really that important. Do this enough, and you start to train your own brain to believe that you’re not that important generally. On the other hand, when you’re willing to honestly express how you feel and what you want, you’re reinforcing to your own brain that you are important and valuable. And ultimately, that’s the source of genuine self-confidence and self-respect.
  • Become less resentful of others. When you rely on the three unhelpful styles of communication, you tend to project your own disappointment with yourself for not being honest and assertive onto other people in the form of chronic frustration and resentment.
  • Better relationships. It’s a truism among couples counselors that all relationship problems are communication problems. And when it comes down to it, all communication problems are problems of assertiveness. When you learn how to communicate assertively—especially with spouse or partner—just about every aspect of your relationships improve, including getting less defensive.

The True Meaning of Assertiveness

While assertive communication is the most common form of assertiveness, it’s important to know that assertiveness is bigger than a style of communication and speech.

Assertiveness means living your life according to your values, not someone else’s.

It’s about respecting yourself enough to be genuinely okay with who we are and to live your life accordingly. And while this may take the form of speech and communication, it’s about how you act more generally.

  • Keeping your word. When you lie or flake out on commitments you’ve made to other people, you not only decrease their trust and good faith in you, but you undermine your own trust in yourself. You create another piece of evidence that you’re not really reliable or consistent, which over time severely weakness your self-confidence and self-image. Sticking with our commitments is one of the most important forms of assertive behavior.
  • Not second-guessing your decisions. When you make a reasonable decision but then spend hours, days, or weeks mentally ruminating and second-guessing that decision, you’re communicating to your own brain that your decisions can’t be trusted. On the other hand, when you abstain from worry and second-guessing, you demonstrate confidence and belief in yourself.
  • Following through on goals. Assertiveness means being careful about the goals you set. Because every time you set a goal and then don’t follow through on it, you communicate to yourself that you’re not the type of person who follows through on what’s important to them. But when you are thoughtful and set reasonable goals that truly matter, and then work hard to achieve them and follow through, you reinforce the powerful idea that you’re a competent, reliable person—the core of healthy self-esteem.
  • Defending our beliefs. If you really want to see good examples of passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication at work, observe how people act and communicate when politics, religion, or other strongly held beliefs are on the line. Many people either avoid expressing and defending their beliefs because the imagined conflict “isn’t worth it,” or they become irrationally aggressive and/or indirect in defending their beliefs and end up being disrespectful or inflexible in the way they engage with people who differ.
  • Asking for and giving feedback. Most people are terrified both at giving or receiving feedback because they lack self-confidence and are afraid of how they’ll feel (shame, embarrassment) or how others will feel about them (anger, disappointment). But to someone who’s assertive, feedback is a wonderful thing because it leads to growth and new insights.

At the end of the day, being more assertive means the willingness to go after what’s important to you even when it’s hard.

It means your decisions, speech, actions, and goals are all driven by your values rather than the passing whims and fears of the moment.


How to Be More Assertive

Assertiveness is a skill that needs to be built and developed over time. If you’ve read this far, hopefully you have a good understanding of what assertiveness is and why it’s important. But putting it into practice is an entirely different thing.

Here are a handful of simple ways to get started being more assertive in everyday life:

  • Start small and narrow. Like any other skill in life, assertiveness needs to be built up slowly over time. So instead of trying to simply be more assertive everywhere and always, pick one small situation where you would like to be a bit more assertive. Work on that until you feel more confident, then slowly work on increasingly more challenging situations.
  • Prepare ahead of time. It’s not always possible, but often you can prepare ahead of time to be more assertive in a specific situation. For example, before a difficult conversation, you might take 10 minutes to write down your thoughts and what you would like to say ideally. This will help you organize your thoughts, be less anxious leading up to the conversation, and also be more confident during the conversation. Also, be smart about when and where you decide to practice assertiveness. If you need to have a difficult conversation with your spouse, 10:00 am is probably better than 10:00 pm.
  • Connect assertiveness with your values. Being assertive is hard. You are likely to encounter resistance—both from other people and yourself. In order to overcome that resistance, you can greatly improve your motivation and resolve by taking some time to clarify why being assertiveness really matters to you and how assertiveness will help you realize those values. For example: Setting better boundaries at work will help you live out your value of being present with your spouse and kids at home. So make sure to identify and clarify the values around your assertive behavior.
  • Make imperfect decisions on purpose. When you’re faced with a trivial joint decision with someone—like which show to watch on Netflix with a friend or partner in the evenings—just pick the first thing that comes to mind and say that’s what you want to watch. Don’t worry if you’re not totally sure if that’s what you really want to watch or how the other person may or may not feel. Just say, I’d like to watch Detectorists. Or, Let’s watch Planet Earth. If you want to feel more confident you need to practice being more decisive, regardless of how you feel.
  • Stop apologizing when you haven’t actually done anything wrong. Often times we say we’re sorry because we’re uncomfortable with the fact that someone else is uncomfortable, and so we say we’re sorry in an attempt to “make things better” and relieve the discomfort of the situation. Stop. Other people’s emotions are neither your responsibility nor something you can control.
  • Understand how to set good boundaries. If someone asks a favor that’s either unreasonable or that you simply don’t want to go along with, simply say no. Understand that you’re going to feel uncomfortable afterward and that the whole point is to build up your tolerance for that discomfort. Of course, start practicing this in small, lower-stakes situations until you feel more confident then gradually work your way up. You can read more about this here: 5 Rules for Setting Healthy Boundaries
  • Stop trying to manage how other people feel. Instead of offering solutions to or doing things to try and make people feel better, try simply acknowledging that they’re having a hard time and leaving it at that. Be a good listener, validate their emotions, but don’t take responsibility for them.

Remember: As you practice being more assertive—even in small ways—it’s going to feel uncomfortable for you as well as the people around you who are used to you being less assertive.

It’s important that you expect this so that at least you’re not caught off guard by it in the moment.

One Final Tip: Watch Out for Fake Guilt

Here’s one final tip as you work toward becoming more assertive. If you can remember this, you’ll be far less likely to fall off the assertiveness wagon and back into old habits.

Feeling guilty is not the same thing as being guilty.

Many of us—especially those of us with a more passive style of communicating—have a hard time being assertive because we worry about how guilty we’ll feel as a result of not going along with what other people want.

This is a classic trap that many people who struggle to be assertive fall into—they have a hard time distinguishing true guilt from fake guilt.

Imagine a pushy family member giving you a hard time about the decision not to host Christmas again this year. Imagine how you might feel as they describe how no one else will do it and how important it is to keep the family together and how much they all depend on you to do this, and how hurt they would be if you “let them down.”

This is guilt-tripping. And your pushy family member is doing it because they know on some level that the discomfort you feel as a result may be so strong that you’ll end up hosting Christmas just to avoid having to feel the fake guilt they’ve so generously heaped upon you.

The key is to recognize that this guilt is not legitimate.

Guilt is the emotion we experience when we’ve done something wrong, not when someone else says (or implies) that we’ve done something wrong. 

You might be afraid of them thinking badly of you. But that’s a very different thing than you actually being and feeling guilty.

Try to get better at recognizing these two versions of guilt. When you find yourself feeling guilty, ask yourself, Have I actually done something wrong?

Then, practice tolerating the discomfort of that fake guilt—usually some form of fear or sadness—and building up resilience to it.


Summary and Key Points

  • To be assertive means that we’re honest with ourselves about our own values and willing to act according to them.
  • More specifically, assertive communication means that we’re willing and able to express our wants and feelings directly and respectfully.
  • Less helpful styles of communication include passive communication, aggressive communication, and passive-aggressive communication.
  • Being assertive can be difficult because other people often react negatively, and we can feel afraid or uncomfortable as a result.
  • The benefits of assertiveness are almost too numerous to list, but some of the most important include increased self-confidence, lower anxiety and dependency, improved relationships, and less resentment toward others.
  • Some small ways to practice being more assertive include making decisions despite not being totally sure, saying no to unreasonable requests and tolerating the resulting discomfort, and asking for what you want—like a different table at a restaurant or another bag of peanuts on a plane flight.
  • Feeling guilty is not the same thing as being guilty. Learning to tell the difference is essential because subtle guilt-tripping is the most common reason many of us have a hard time being assertive.

40 Comments

Add Yours

I wonder if what I did was being assertive or bullying. I was feeling depressed and not at all well and very unhappy. I called my daughter and asked her if I could come over to her house. She said okay. It started to rain, sometimes hard and asked if I could come over tomorrow. I felt I could hang on to tomorrow but I wanted to come over today. She was very annoyed and said that I don’t help myself and I said something to counter that and she said she would come over. She works hard and coming home from work too. I felt guilty and called her and told her I would come over tomorrow. She said no she was practically at my home. So I said ok. I had asked her in the beginning if I could come over each day of the weekend. That was not definitive. She said when she was taking me home that she would pick me up tomorrow. I said that ok I’ll be fine or something like that. She said no my kids will be there so I said ok.

Dear Marie, it must have been hard for you dear. How are you doing? Hope you feel better. Thanks for sharing the personal note. I hear you. I sometimes have similar conversations at home and feel clueless about what to do. To me, you were assertive in experiencing your needs and emotions. You needed help and you reached out.

I would also say that reducing dependency on your family could make you feel liberated and energised. Happy to share more if you want.

Lots of good wishes.

I like the way you answer. Like it’s a yes, and then here is one that could be better choice.
Thanks Niti

Everything I’ve just read and I read all of it is to me absolutely spot on ? I have always struggled in life with being assertive and from reading this believe I am a passive assertive person and who very often feels bad or guilty for saying no or having to change plans on decisions I’ve made far to quick instead of thinking first based on ongoing poor mental health problems most of which have resulted from past traumatic experiences and which then result in a break down in communicating to the point where I don’t communicate at all not even with my own gp anymore maybe a good idea that I start to use these tips

Thanks, Jane! Yes, I’d definitely encourage you to try some of this, especially a when it comes to getting the medical attention you need. Good luck!

Thank you! This was the most genuine article I have read on assertiveness. I also clicked the link and read the article about worry.
And I will be ordering that workbook on assertiveness to work through immediately. It’s amazing how we get to a point in life that we just can’t be passive anymore… it is like the mask is suffocating me, the words I long to say to others come tumbling out later when I am on my own… but at least they are starting to come out, and hopefully in time, I can start to be more assertive. Thanks for also including the part about guilt tripping. I do that to myself a lot (as well as those close to me) and actually, if I think very closely to my “assertive” moment, I do not have anything to apologize for, but somehow my body is programmed to say I am guilty. Happy that I am able to re-read this article anytime I want and also happy to see in your article that discomfort happens but it is going to get better.

Melanie,

Comments like this are a real gift to a writer 🙂 So glad to hear that it’s been both helpful and relatable. That’s what I strive for in my writing, so it’s great to hear that it’s coming across that way.

Best of luck in your assertiveness journey!

cheers,
–Nick

Nick, your writing is so clear and directly focused. I love the simple practice examples of behaviors you include, and that you emphasize it’s a learned behavior.
I have been studying psychology and reading self-help books for 40+ years, and in just a few pages of your posts, you’ve tapped on so many poignant sides of communication issues, including how others may counter any new strides in more assertive behavior.
As a quiet person by nature, and coming from a family where any emotion was tamped down immediately, I didn’t develop communication skills as a young person. As an adult, having to navigate relationships was incredibly difficult. I was so meek that it was obvious to everyone how others would take advantage. I would try and try to express clearly my needs, but in order to ever be “heard”, I felt I had to become enraged to get anyone’s attention. I grew so exhausted that I mostly withdrew from humans.
Thank you immensely for sharing your knowledge so freely! Your reaching out so openly and with no personal benefit is remarkable. And transformative for me.

Everything in your article sounds great, and I know I should do it, but every time I try to be assertive I get SO much push back from people at work, family of origin, and family of choice, that is way worse than being passive. If I’m passive, I’m miserable, but if I’m assertive, everyone is miserable. It just doesn’t seem worth it. Or the alternative is to find a new job and new family.

Such a helpful article! As an anxious person, I never realized that my passive communication was making my self esteem worse and my anxiety greater. I will be working on asserting myself in my friendships!

“Stop trying to manage how other people feel” blew. My. Mind. Thank you so much for sharing these with us!

I need to improve this communication skills to grow myself and to have a good relation with myself and others. Thanks nick. Even it is so deep but it is true. Thanks.

I have tried being assertive in many situations and ended up being aggressive. I am still practicing on being assertive. Its an ongoing process and needs regular practice.
Your article is very detailed and easy to grasp the context. I really love the way you write. You make the reader engaged and hooked with good story telling talent.

Thanks again Nick Wignall

As a psychologist, I stumbled across this when looking for education about the 4 communication styles to give to a patient. I will never use a different resource on this again! Very easy to read explanation, and also begins to handle the “fake guilt” often used by folks with strong maladaptive personality features (among others). I will use this more and more to provide psychotherapy to my patients! Thanks.

Thank you for writing this article. It is well written and the principles discussed are clearly described. I think we need to remember that it is okay for others to express disappoint in our values, actions, and words. If we don’t allow them to have their feelings and allow them to express their feelings then we are the ones becoming controlling and insensitive. I like the way you brought up that we don’t need to manage or take responsibility for others feelings. Sometimes we just need to accept that we see things from different view points based on needs and experiences.

As a nurse – it’s easy to solve other people’s problems.

Or so I thought.

Re-reading this article made me think about my own personal style.

It swings between passive- aggressive and assertive-passive.

I now appreciate it’s NOT the job that’s changed my style.
But how I perceive the job from the other person’s viewpoint.

Time to change.

Great personal lesson learnt Nick.
Thank you.

I was looking for articles about assertiveness to put together an episode for my podcast and i came across this. I wouldn’t for the life of me know how to make that episode now without wanting to quote every single thing in this article because it really was so helpful. So instead I’ve decided to narrate the article, while leaving a link to it of course and referencing you. I really hope that’ll be okay?. Thank you for the simple yet very informative article.

Dear Nick,
Thank you soo much for this article. I have found this very helpful in identifying my communication style. Which is passive. I see now how I suffer due to this and why I do this. Secondly, I have also realised why is it important to be assertive for my own self. Lastly, I was wondering how can I order the workbook to practice assertive communication.
Thanks and God Bless you.
Ali

Hi! Thank you for this article. I have a hard time being assertive at work. I have been working in the construction field and whenever decisions have to be made, I always doubt myself if my decision is really correct. In the end, I can’t assert what I think is right for fear that it may actually be wrong (there’s always this thought that I am still a newbie even if I’ve been woeking for 2 years already). I have higher heart rates whenever these situations happen.

Is this common? It’s like even if I am 80% sure that I am right, there is still this 20% lingering in my head that I am wrong. Other people at work may not side with me as well so I just dont know what to do or how to improve myself. How can I not be a weakling anymore? What can I do to be taken more seriously and be more confident with myself?

I read your post about Self-Doubt and I can totally relate. I think I will try your suggestions there.

But just to be sure, I want to know if this thing thats happening with me is normal? Thank you Nick. You are blessing.

Hello Lerina,
I believe what you’re experiencing is a usual form of impostor syndrome and I believe it can be worked on. I’m a Medical Doctor, practicing 4 years and I experience similar.

This was an excellent read, and I will be more assertive. My mental health depends on it. I struggle with depression and social anxiety. I have serve to profound hearing loss (I wear a powerful hearing aid on the one GOOD ear) and one of the emotions that come with being this way is doubt. Doubting what hear because I *probably* heard incorrectly. I often feel like when people talk to me and I did not hear them a second time, they are inconvenienced because they have to talk louder and the statement lost its importance by the time I understand what they said and developed a response to it. I feel slow in conversations. The moment is lost and I often take the blame like “had I be able to hear properly, I could stay in the moment and had a decent conversation”.

Sometimes I flat out ignore when someone is talking because I know it will be a chore if I missed what they said the second, third, fourth time… This can lead to people not communicating with me because I seem like an unresponsive personality and I’m not. In conversation, I dislike disclosing to random people that I’m legally deaf because I have been bullied for it all my life up until my third year in uni, even by the teachers from preschool/elementary school/middle school/high school.
I want to free how other people feel and finally love myself and give myself the career, relationship, and life I deserve.

The article on assertive communication was very helpful. I’ve had trouble, my entire life, being assertive as my parents , ex husband and children have used my insecurity (need to please, keep the peace etc) has been exploited. This article helped me understand I am the one who needs to modify my behavior and self manage the reactions from others as a result. I have already implemented several of the suggestions in this article, and I’ve improved greatly. I’m still a work in progress as I self-talk through worry of upsetting a romantic partner when I have needs I’m fearful of expressing. I realize this is a trigger from the past and only I can take steps to be brave & speak up, despite the discomfort! Eventually, it becomes less & less worrisome and I make sure to tell myself ‘good job’ when I’ve accomplished an assertiveness goal! I also tell myself, ‘see…it wasn’t so bad after all’!
I’m grateful for Nicks concise manner in outlining examples of improving assertiveness.

This article is incredible. Just incredible. As the 40-something son of a textbook Narcissist (although I only discovered this in the last few months) I have been desperately searching for the first rung on the ladder of my re-parenting journey, to leave my lifetime of horrific self-hatred behind. I now feel I’ve found it. Thank you.

Absolutely incredible. Thank you Nick. Lots to say but generally I’m on a journey to overcome my passive communication and a ‘people pleaser’, which also contributes negatively to my self-respect, confidence, esteem and relationships with people by doubting myself/sabotaging myself etc. Finally found a really doable way to literally reverse all that effects and it starts with practicing assertiveness. I really thank you for that first step to forever. Sincerely, a reader from Malaysia

Hi Nick,
I stumbled across your articles through medium recently. It’s been a revelation reading this article and many of your other articles. Clearly explained with honest intentions. In this article, the part about guilt tripping by a family member happens all the time with me. I end up doing something even if it’s unreasonable, to maintain the peace at home. How can I say no and be strong enough to deal with the aftermath? Should I just sit tight and wait for the accusations to subside?

After reading this article I realize that I’ve been guilt-tripped on numerous occasions! Since 1967 various people have guilt-tripped me because I am angry about my husband’s infidelity when he was deployed with the Army to South Korea where he made the decision to cheat on me with prostitutes. I was angry when he told me about what he had done and I am angry to this day about his betrayal and his lying to me in his letters sent to me during the last three months of his tour of duty in Korea. Everyone I talked to about his infidelity guilt-tripped me, making me feel like I was the one doing wrong by being angry at him for his infidelity. Deep down I knew I was not doing anything wrong but our society is so driven by wanting to always forgive the men and what they do that it’s ingrained in people that boys will be boys and aren’t they cute. I didn’t feel that way in 1967 and I don’t feel that way now. He jeopardized our marriage with his decision to be unfaithful with prostitutes. By doing that he demonstrated that he didn’t care about me or the marriage. I’m in counseling now (finally!) to help me make peace with what he did. We are still married because in 1967 I made the decision to stay with him instead of being single & financially on my own since I had zero confidence in my ability to support myself. Finally I have made peace with what he did through neutral thinking. It is what it is. He chose prostitutes over me. Wives are in a constant competition with the women their husbands meet on a day-to-day basis & I lost the competition with the prostitutes. Obviously he chose them over me. Since 1967 he has chosen me over other women with whom he’s had the opportunity to be intimate or at least that’s what he’s told me. I choose to believe him because I can’t prove he’s lying & we’ve managed to build a good life together although we are not what anyone would call “close.” We’ve been married 55 years & I’m not about to give up a paid-for home, paid-for vehicles & a comfortable life-style in a long-delayed angry reaction to his infidelity. It’s good though to realize my mother and others guilt-tripped me over his infidelity.

I completely understand your decission.
I’m glad the article made you realise that others guilt-tripped you.
Take care!

I’ve been doing things for others for so long I barely remember what dreams are…assertive sounds right but for what? You kinda need a dream to be assertive for, yes?

Nick,
Thank you so much for a very clear and well written article, to the point and informative. I like how you give examples and how to implement them into our own life.

Hey, I really liked your article. Very comprehensive and also I really appreciate that you go into the actual troubles of how it feels when you actually start to get more assertive. Because as you say I feel like it can feel strange and at first lead to strained relationships with people that have gotten used to you being a certain way.
Also explaining the difference between feeling guilty and being guilty, though seemingly obvious, was important for me to see written like this.
This must be the first comment on a website I have left in years, so it really meant something to me. Thanks for writing this!

I have perhaps a ridiculous question. What if… you say you are making pizza for diner (and you really love and want to eat pizza) and your husband practices assertive communication and says that he does not want to eat pizza. When you compromise, each looses a bit. That’s how compromises work. But in all your examples, there aren’t any about compromises and when it’s good to do it and when it’s not. Let’s say the husband says « I want to go to On a trip to xyz «  and the wife says « great. On our way We could stop by this city a stay a night ».
And the husband says no because he wants to keep things simple and just directly to xyz. But the wife has been wanting to go to the other city for a while and it’s just a stop on the way to the final destination. The husband again is assertive and says that he feels that his wife keeps complicating things and that every time he recommends an idea for an activity, she adds things or recommends different variations of the idea. The wife on the other hand just feels like she is sharing and being assertive. They both believe they are expressing their needs and wants. How can both communicate, respect and feel respected while still feeling the complicity one should feel in an intimate relationship?

Try engaging your family and co-workers and describing how you feel to them as a result of their decisions and choices. It makes you feel vulnerable but you’re steadily growing towards your assertiveness and if they really understand and care, you’ll begin to see changes, little but significant ones

I have a hard time communicating my feelings, needs and desires. I am afraid of conflict. I want to see a therapist to get out of my anxieties. But my family finds it morally degrading to see a psychologist . In our culture we see a psychologist only when things are too out of control or the person is designated as psychopath.

Your article is excelent ! A true thought provoking ! I do appreciate it. Thank you!
I really would love to read your thoughts concerning ” The Gender Problems in that content. Like “barriers to being an assertive woman. And maybe some considerations for both, man and woman. My regards ! Thanks

Leave a Reply