How assertiveness is different from aggressionBeing assertive means striking a balance between being passive and aggressive. It involves expressing one’s needs and respecting the needs of others.
Time and again, we might find ourselves being mistreated and disrespected by others—both intentionally and unintentionally. We feel wronged and unjust, and consequently, we feel the need to stand up for ourselves.
The obvious answer for many could be confrontation. After all, we would want to defend ourselves and feel justified in doing so. And, to nobody’s surprise, this approach comes with its own set of challenges. However, the true answer to this lies in the skill of assertiveness.
Being assertive is usually associated with the ability to express our needs, wants, and opinions in a calm and confident way. When we are assertive, we naturally expect ourselves to feel more in control of our behaviour, and we become empowered.
But what I’ve observed is that the act of being assertive can sometimes lean towards being aggressive. In fact, these two behaviours can become intertwined, and this combination can be detrimental.
Hence, it becomes important to understand the scale consisting of the extremes of passive and aggressive behaviour. Being passive means being overly accommodating and compromising on one’s own needs, often to the detriment of personal well-being. On the other hand, becoming aggressive leans towards harming others while being considerate only of one’s own needs.
Let’s consider this situation: I constantly get belittled by my best friend. This friend underestimates me and my capabilities and always makes it a point to highlight my flaws. I don’t feel that this person respects me. So, I am boiling with anger, frustration, and resentment. In the midst of this, I consider it a good time to be assertive. I confront this friend: I lay out all the ways that they have wronged me and how hurtful they’ve been towards me. I asked them to stop their hurtful behaviour, and I even made an ultimatum that they needed to respect me, or I’d stop talking to them.
Here, even though I did present my opinions and prioritise my needs, I veered more towards the aggressive stance. Hence, assertiveness lies right in the middle of the above-mentioned scale. Assertiveness denotes the balance between our own needs and the needs of the other person, ensuring that both are equally considered.
Not only do I have to consider my own needs and wants, but I also have to be respectful and receptive to the other person’s needs without causing any harm. The intention should not be to attack and dismiss. Saying “no”, which is a common association with this concept, can at times be seen as simply being rebellious or plain aggressive. So, it is important to be aware of the difference.
However, this is easier said than done. That is why working through emotions like anger, frustration, and resentment is crucial. No matter how much we try to be assertive, if these feelings are not resolved, the act becomes very difficult and, by default, can sound aggressive.
Anger as an emotion is healthy. It arises from a sense of injustice—the feeling of being wronged. It is the behaviour we choose to respond to the anger that determines whether it is healthy or not. The decision to act aggressively in response to our anger does not lead to favourable consequences. So, being in touch with healthy ways to deal with anger is the way to go. For example, taking deep breaths, journaling, engaging in creative activities, and more. If the anger is very intense, a healthy release can be found by punching a pillow or a soft toy. This harmless act of releasing pent-up anger can be therapeutic.
Dealing with anger consequently leads to ensuring assertiveness. We become better communicators, able to express our own opinions while remaining empathetic and fair. Here, I-statements are a great tool for asserting ourselves. I-statements involve putting forward our emotions rather than focusing on the other person's actions (You-statements) that have influenced us. Moving on from this place of vulnerability can be a wonderful way to connect with the person, making them realise the impact of their actions on us.
Hence, in the above situation, I first deal with my anger. When I feel much more calm and in control, I go to my friend later and engage in an open conversation about how their actions made me feel and how I felt about myself as a result of their comments and how that affected me.
This mode of communication leads to the other person being less defensive themselves and leads to a better understanding of our stance. As a result, the pathway to reaching respect in this friendship becomes more assured, as there is an open discussion to reach an agreement on mutual terms.
Assertiveness as a skill is something that is very important to be learned and embraced, as it fosters better connections and communication, ensuring the perfect balance between self and others. It contributes to healthier relationships and overall well-being.