Assertiveness without aggression

As a convent school child, all forms of confidence were considered ‘arrogant’. But, now I witness the result: an inner critic leading to low confidence and even lower esteem. I believed that putting myself first was selfish, and loving myself was even worse. But, now I know it's necessary or they’ll step all over you - the skill is in finding the balance.


Is there an element of truth attached to the myth of the 'British reserve'? How assertive are you? In what situation do you wish to change - the present, how you relate or mingling externally? Do your low esteem and higher critic secretly worry about reactions? You’ve got to say something, but what?

At times, we all swallow and push down a bitter thought, as it’s easier to hold onto an unfair history than release. Maybe you tell yourself 'they’re not worth the effort, unravelling my misgivings may be a futile effort.' So, with a tight jaw and serious mind, you just make your leave.

Capture the link between your mind-body-heart (MBH) and, with this awareness, how do you choose to assert?

  • Magnanimously, allowing your charming self to develop.
  • Be a courteous human and force forward the ‘good girl’, until oops!
  • Suffer the anxiety involved until it tilts your health over.
  • Pretend ‘you can’t hurt me’ until finally you snap and the anger explodes.

Assertion reduces rows, not causes. Not only does skilful assertion improve mind-body-heart health, but we also develop as a person, flip that anger over and your confidence is free to progress.

Assertion is a skill. Come on too strong and you become a bully, but swallow the pain and you are the fool. It can be hard to speak your mind and say what’s right for you. Here are some tips:

  • Accept and trust yourself. Acknowledge your value, your vision, your talent. Say the positive mantra "I do my best".
  • Shine the light on your motives.
  • Learn to ask for needs.
  • Set boundaries (no to others is yes to you).
  • Practice somewhere safe. Smile. Give a little in order to get.

Is it easier to think “let them step all over me”? If you come on too hard, it will backfire. Instead of listening, they’ll focus on your bullying. If you come on too softly, they’ll play you for a fool. And what if you’re wrong about them stepping all over you? Maybe they shouldn’t have to accommodate you.

Maybe you have tried before and it’s beyond them to listen well, so you go softly and let them do their own thing. Maybe being assertive feels like out-conning a conman, you can’t force it.

The only thing you can change is your attitude. So, if someone is giving you a hard time, relax, accept and forgive them. Mindfulness coupled with diplomatic strategies will help you both shape up.

You don’t have to give them hell or bend over backwards. There are ways to meet the other where they are and still feel satisfied. Grow your assertion plus feel your confidence fast forward. I'm here to help.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Muswell Hill N10 & Central London SE1
Written by Mary Mcilroy, BACP Accredited (Anxiety specialist). Bupa listed 30060387
Muswell Hill N10 & Central London SE1

I am a registered counsellor with the BACP covering: London Bridge/The City of London and Muswell Hill/London N10. Although I help people mainly with issues of anxiety and depression, I cover many other areas. Throughout your sessions with me, you will be listened to with empathy while you feel and see change happen as anxiety melts away.

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