Passive, aggressive or assertive?

How many times have you found yourself in trouble while asking for help, expressing your disappointment to someone or your preferences when making a choice? 

Have you ever surrendered to other people's choices because of guilt or embarrassment? Have you ever acted too aggressively in order to get what you want?

If any of the above applies to you, you might have experienced trouble being assertive

Being assertive refers to the ability to be able to express your choices, preferences and critics in an honest and clear way, that respects yourself and other people. 

In some instances being assertive can be particularly difficult, especially when close relationships are involved or our performance is at stake. One may be easily scared of not being liked, rejected or negatively judged when expressing a desire or an idea that it is different from the interlocutor's. Conversely, one may expect other people to think the same way or have the same preferences, therefore not accepting other people’s point of view. 

Generally, in social relationships there may be found three different recognisable - and often alternate, depending on the instance - patterns: passive, aggressive or assertive behaviour. 

A passive behaviour may imply swallowing emotions, desires or personal preferences as well as adopting someone else’s preferences to please others. Passive people have trouble saying no to people’s requests; they always apologise for every little thing and usually tend to play a passive role in relationships.  

Usually, people with a passive behaviour are driven by a fear of upsetting others or breaking their relationship if they express their personal preferences, and are most often afraid of being negatively judged. They might believe that their own preferences are not equally valuable and equally worthy of respect. Predictably, they suffer from low self-esteem issues. 

Conversely, people with an aggressive type of behaviour tend to often ignore other people's point of view and force others to think or act in the way they desire. This kind of behaviour usually brings about relational conflicts.

Contrarily, assertive people are able to express their ideas and feelings in an honest and direct way, while defending their rights and respecting other people’s ones, without experiencing guilt or shame. 

How to be assertive?

Assertiveness is not an easy-to-apply skill, as life teaches us that each situation requires a balanced mix of several kinds of behaviour. 

Here are some tips that may help you increase your assertiveness skills:

  • Recognise which traits you show more frequently. Do you have a tendency towards passive, aggressive or assertive behaviours?
  • Think about the reasons why you tend to behave in a passive or aggressive way (e.g. fear of negative judgment, low self-esteem issues, etc.).
  • Actively practice assertiveness in your daily life, starting from being honest with yourself about what you want in a relational situation, and ask for it in a clear and respectful way. 
  • Please, bear in mind that in the same way as every new skill, assertiveness requires practice. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not getting it quite right yet. 
  • Speak to a therapist if you need help to develop or increase your assertiveness skills or the reasons behind your aggressive or passive behaviours are too complex and difficult to cope with.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, BACP and HCPC registered, working in Marylebone, Chelsea and Liverpool Street both in English and Italian, with adult and adolescent clients experiencing depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational issues.… Read more

Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

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