Preliminary Assertiveness Research

I made my first foray into looking for tips on becoming more assertive today by typing “assertiveness practice” into Ecosia (it’s not the best search engine, but suffices for most purposes, and it plants trees), squinting suspiciously at the first three results, skimming through them and scoffing loudly at everything remotely scoff-worthy.

Then I remembered that becoming more assertive is actually important, that I should be searching out and soaking up all useful things instead of mocking the rest, and realized that a contemptuous and reluctant mindset might put me at a disadvantage there. So I took a deep breath and started over.

The very first result is a page geared towards people with disabilities. Pro: it uses simple, straightforward language, which makes it super easy to read. Contra: it offers a self-test which I immediately took (because yay, self-tests!) and which asks you to mark statements such as “You have a right to stand up for yourself” as true or false. This seemed somewhat simplistic and made me doubt if I’d find much useful stuff on this particular site. I moved on anyway, because you never know.

Below, I’ll quote passages from the site and offer my comments.

Even if you think that you are ‘too passive’ or ‘too aggressive’ and don’t know how to be assertive, chances are, you do respond assertively to at least some things in your life. […] The trick is to recognize those areas where you are assertive, identify your skills, and apply them to other areas of your life.

Spontaneously, I do remember a few situations where I behaved assertively: class discussions (plural, even, which mildly surprises me), fandom discussions with friends (most recently about Hunger Games, often about Game of Thrones), a few discussion about dog behavior and training with roommates.

All of these had in common that I felt confident in my opinion, that is, I had given the topic at hand some thought and had facts to back up my claims. I also felt reasonably safe – in some cases I knew all the people around me pretty well, in others the setting was formal enough that I could predict what would happen even though I didn’t (I knew I wouldn’t get yelled at or worse, basically).

None of them were about my needs or feelings, which is the area in which I most wish to become more assertive, and sadly, the skills that helped me (having provable facts on my side) don’t seem to be applicable to this area.
I’ll keep the advice in mind anyway, pay attention, and try to find situations in which I manage to be assertive about needs or feelings. Maybe I’ll find something after all.

Everyone can expand upon their assertiveness skills, no matter how limited they think they are. You just need the desire to change your behavior and value yourself more.

I’m not sure if valuing myself is actually what’s wrong here – I already believe myself to be just as valuable as other people, or at least some of them, or at least in some sense. (It’s complicated.)
However, it’s possible that I do so rationally, but not emotionally, in which case my immediate reactions would follow my emotions rather than my rational assessment (those little buggers are fast). Afterwards, going against my initial, emotional reactions could be made more difficult by embarrassment or a desire to be (perceived as) consistent, or the situation might have changed already during my assessment and my rational responses would keep lagging behind.

And in at least some situations my failure to assert myself is not due to beliefs I hold about myself, but about others and their reactions. After all, they might react negatively. If I think this likely, valuing myself could mean trying to keep myself safe from harm by not acting assertively.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do I want to change my behavior?


Do I believe in myself, as well as others?

I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean to believe in people in this context. Believe in my abilities? Well, no, I don’t believe in my ability to act assertively, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Believe that I have value, and just as much as other people? Yes. Something else entirely? Who knows.

Am I willing to set reasonable goals and take reasonable risks?

Sounds good, but I’m not sure what is reasonable in this context, and my answer ultimately depends on that.

Am I open to new ideas?

I like to think so, which makes my self-assessment somewhat unreliable here. (Plenty of people probably like to think of themselves as open to new ideas, but aren’t really. I have no way of knowing whether I am one of them.)

Can I accept the facts that things may not change overnight and not everything will always go my way?


Am I willing to make the effort, practice, and have patience while building my new skills?

I am certainly willing to make some effort. Whether I am willing and able to make the effort necessary to build those skills will depend on how much effort that actually is, which I don’t know yet.

Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly. It is expressing your opinions, needs, and feelings, without ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs, and feelings of others.

Especially needs and feelings give me trouble. I am not sure to what extent this is because it’s simply hard to assess when they will hurt the needs and feelings of others (especially when the assessment and my resulting reaction need to be fast). Getting faster at that might be difficult to practice or learn, but I don’t think that’s all of it, and I hope I can find a way to get better at the other part(s).
I am reasonably good at expressing opinions, unless those solely depend on feelings (think likes/dislikes). In situations where that is the case, I think I’m mostly afraid of getting laughed at or judged for what I like.

Assertive behavior includes:

Starting, changing, or ending conversations
Sharing feelings, opinions, and experiences with others
Making requests and asking for favors
Refusing others’ requests if they are too demanding
Questioning rules or traditions that don’t make sense or don’t seem fair
Addressing problems or things that bother you
Being firm so that your rights are respected
Expressing positive emotions
Expressing negative emotions

Oh man yes please, can I just get a big serving of all of these??
Well, okay, I think I do question rules or traditions, and I’ve managed to address problems or things that bother me quite a few times in the past, especially with roommates (although in some of those cases it just got ignored, and I backed down later). The rest, though: yes please.
Although here, again, I stumble over the question of what requests are too demanding. Too demanding for what? Who decides that, and on what basis? (I’m afraid I would, but what if I end up selfishly denying too many requests?)

Next up, they have a bunch of examples of assertive behavior contrasted with passive and aggressive behavior:

Passive Behavior: Is afraid to speak up
Aggressive Behavior: Interrupts and ‘talks over’ others
Assertive Behavior: Speaks openly

I’m not sure there always (or even usually) is a point between the passive and the aggressive behavior. Especially in groups, I frequently find no opportunity at all to speak when I try to make sure I’m not interrupting anyone, or only when we are already past the topic I meant to speak about. (Interestingly, it’s easier to turn back to the former topic in formal settings than in informal ones.)

Passive Behavior: Avoids looking at people
Aggressive Behavior: Glares and stares at others
Assertive Behavior: Makes good eye contact

why. why is eye contact. why do people do such things.
On a more serious note, people usually don’t notice whether I’m actually making eye contact or looking at an eye-adjacent part of their face (the bridge of their nose, an eyebrow, just to the side of one eye, etc.). I probably should practice that, though – sometimes it’s too eye-adjacent for comfort, and I end up blinking and squinting a lot, or feeling my gaze just slip away repeatedly anyway.

Passive Behavior: Shows little or no expression
Aggressive Behavior: Intimidates others with expressions
Assertive Behavior: Shows expressions that match the message

I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, and it bothers me how non-exhaustive those examples are (so what kind of behavior is it to show expressions that are not intimidating but also don’t match the message?). But I suppose this has something to do with me smiling when I get hugged and don’t want to, and I do realize that that is the opposite of helpful and I should probably stop it.

Passive Behavior: Slouches and withdraws
Aggressive Behavior: Stands rigidly, crosses arms, invades others’ personal space
Assertive Behavior: Relaxes and adopts an open posture and expressions

What if I slouch and cross my arms? And what if an “open” expression (or relaxing, for that matter) doesn’t match my message? Checkmate!
I’ve been planning to work on my posture and body language anyway, though, partly inspired by some of the holiday pictures. Might look up tips on that next when I’m done with assertiveness and it wasn’t covered there.

Passive Behavior: Isolates self from groups
Aggressive Behavior: Controls groups
Assertive Behavior: Participates in groups

I feel like instructions of how to do the latter would fill whole sites and books by themselves.

Passive Behavior: Agrees with others, despite feelings
Aggressive Behavior: Only considers own feelings, and/or demands of others
Assertive Behavior: Speaks to the point

Those examples are nowhere near parallel. I’ll have you know it’s very possible to speak to the point while agreeing with others or making demands, thank you very much.

Passive Behavior: Hurts self to avoid hurting others
Aggressive Behavior: Hurts others to avoid being hurt
Assertive Behavior: Tries to hurt no one (including self)

It’s also very possible to hurt oneself or others while trying to hurt noone. Trying is not the same as doing, just ask Yoda about that sometime.

Passive Behavior: Does not reach goals and may not know goals
Aggressive Behavior: Reaches goals but hurts others in the process
Assertive Behavior: Usually reaches goals without alienating others

Aside from the fact that alienating is not the same as hurting, you neglected to mention what one does when it’s impossible to… oh no, you didn’t, if it’s impossible to reach your goals without hurting others, you’re just behaving aggressively.
Well, isn’t that lovely. I guess if my goal is to live authentically and my mother is hurt by knowing I’m an atheist, I’ll just have no way to be assertive about that and will either stay in the closet about it forever or be horribly aggressive.

[R]emember, the best way to become more assertive is through practice. Visit the Role Playing and Sample Situations section of this course for some test cases and try practicing with friends, family, or counselors.

Nnngh. I was afraid something like this would come up sooner or later. I think I’m… not assertive enough yet to assert in front of friends that I want to practice being more assertive? Which seems like a problem if that’s the only way to become more assertive, but well, they did say best, not only, so maybe I can work my way up to that in non-optimal ways.

Next, they offer their “tips for behaving more assertively”. Quoted are some of the paragraph headings:

Speak up when you have an idea or opinion.
Stand up for your opinions and stick to them.
Make requests and ask for favors.
Refuse requests if they are unreasonable.
Insist that your rights be respected.

Guys. Guys, NO. This is not a list of tips on how a non-assertive person might become more assertive, this is a list of assertive behaviors. If I could do all these already, I would not be here reading them. You simply telling me to speak up and stand up for my opinions does not actually tell me how to do that. And the paragraphs beneath each heading don’t help, either – I already know that I should not feel bad for asking for favors, I just feel bad anyway.
This is just what I expected based on the introductory test, and yet I’m still disappointed and feel let down. (How’s that for assertiveness and expressing my feelings? Works well in writing it down somewhere where probably noone and certainly not you will ever read it. Now I’d like to bring some of that into real life, which, sadly, you are not helping me to do.)

After the tips section, there’s some information on people’s rights in different environment (doctor, work) and links to resources, both irrelevant to me specifically, and the following:

Review the statements below on a regular basis to remind yourself that your thoughts and opinions are important. Every time you agree with these statements, you’re building your assertive skills.

I am honest and direct about my thoughts and feelings.
I speak up and share my views if I disagree with others’ opinions.
I am confident about my opinions and decisions.
I am able to accept that someone else may have a better idea or solution to a problem than I do.
I can accept positive criticism and suggestions.
I ask for help when I need it.
I am able to turn down requests that seem unreasonable or unfair.
I directly address things that bother me.
I speak confidently about things that matter a lot to me.
I consider my needs as important as others.

Right now, a lot of these are not true for me, but with a few alterations, the list might make a good reminder of my goals.
This website won’t exactly help me reach them, though.


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