How To Be More Assertive – Part 1

How To Be More Assertive – Part 1

by Dr Emma Gray - 17th March, 2015

Assertiveness is the ability to get our needs met without preventing others from doing the same. In order to be assertive you must:

1. Truly believe that your needs are neither less nor more important than those of others

2. Be able to ask for what you want in a clear, straightforward and calm way

Being assertive ensures that you get what you need from a situation and do not come away from it feeling anxious, guilty, angry or depressed. It also maximises the chances that our relationships are positive, balanced and mutually satisfying.

The unhelpful alternatives to assertiveness are passivity or passive aggression and aggression. A passive or passive aggressive approach is where you either fail to get what you need or become manipulative in order to do so.

An aggressive approach is where you become overbearing and push through your agenda without consideration of others.

Both alternatives are ultimately unsatisfactory and self-defeating because of the bad feeling that they engender and the longer term disruption that they cause to relationships i.e. we tend to avoid aggressive and manipulative people.

Assertiveness depends on attitude and skills. In the first part of this blog we will address the attitudes necessary to be assertive:

1. Confidence and Self Esteem
Confidence and strong self esteem are necessary if we are to become assertive. We we have to believe that we deserve to get our needs met if we are then going to be able to stand up and get them met.

The most common cause of low self esteem and confidence is an internal self critical voice which negatively evaluates us and undermines us at every turn. Overcoming this internal critic and building self esteem can be difficult, particularly if you are also struggling with anxiety and/or depression, so it may be necessary to get some kind of formal therapy (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy {CBT}).

The exercises below will set you on a path of confidence and more robust self esteem:
i) Keep a daily log of all successes and achievements to balance the internal critic’s focus on failures and short comings.

ii) Write a list of all the reasons that your friends and family would say that they choose to spend time with you.

iii) Tune into your internal critic and try to assess the accuracy and helpfulness of its evaluations and judgements.

2. Knowing what you want
Being assertive involves asking for what you need in a straightforward way. However, if you aren’t used to thinking about yourself and what you need in a kind, thoughtful and non judgemental way you may not know how to do this and what to ask for. Clarifying your needs takes time, focus and practice so push your internal critic to one side, pause for a moment and consider what it is that you need.

The second part of this blog will address the skills that are necessary to be assertive. Click below to navigate.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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