Understanding What it Means to be Assertive

Expressing yourself can be tricky, especially when the situation involves a difference of opinion.  The words and intonation used can very easily change the meaning you are trying to express, and can have a big impact.

Assertive: To be assertive means expressing yourself (feelings and opinions) in a way that shows respect for those you are speaking with and yourself. Someone who is assertive will be honest and open without being hostile or offensive.

Passive: To be passive means giving into what is asked or demanded of you without allowing for your thoughts and feelings to be expressed. Someone who is passive may believe others’ opinions and thoughts are more important than their own.

Aggressive: To be aggressive means expressing your opinions and feelings but disregarding the rights and thoughts of those with whom you are communicating. Someone who is aggressive may believe their way is the one way or the best way no matter what others believe.

Passive-Aggressive: To be passive-aggressive means a person may seem to be passive because they behave quietly and do not directly address conflicts. This person will ‘get back at’ the other person without drawing attention to themselves or behind the other person’s back. This person is often suspicious or distrustful of others.

When we want to be assertive we need to:

  • Decide what we want.
  • Decide if it is fair.
  • Ask clearly for it.
  • Be calm and relaxed.
  • Express our feelings openly.
  • Make sure our faces match our voices.

Test yourself with our Assertiveness Quiz.

Understanding Boundaries

One important way to take care of yourself is set strong and healthy boundaries around yourself and your life. A Boundary is like an invisible line around you. It is what separates you from other people. It is the line between what you are comfortable with and what you are uncomfortable with, what is acceptable to you and what is unacceptable to you. Boundaries help protect not only our physical safety, but also your emotional well-being.

Healthy boundaries are flexible. For example, you might open up your boundaries to let people you trust closer to you – you might share more information with them and feel more comfortable being physically close to them. But with people you don’t know as well or people you distrust, you will probably keep your boundaries closed more tightly by not getting too personal.

Boundaries aren’t just for controlling which people we want to be close to us. Healthy boundaries allow us to control all sorts of things in our lives, including our own behaviour and which behaviours we will accept from others.

Take the time to think about what boundaries you are comfortable with and what makes you feel safe. You are in charge of your life; you are the only person who should be able to control your boundaries. Abuse happens when one person violates another person’s boundaries. That’s why it’s important to be very clear to others what your boundaries are. If you have weak or uncertain boundaries, others are more likely to abuse you; if you have strong and clear boundaries you will be more likely to remain in control of your life and keep yourself safe emotionally and physically.


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