Being unassertive is being passive and you never really say what you actually want, think or feel. It can lead to emotional dysregulation and low self-esteem. This may be characterized through brushing off our opinion; saying it doesn’t matter and we don’t care; we might not say anything at all. Other times we may just agree with what people want and fulfill other people’s needs and wants rather than ours. So we put others first and put ourselves second. We may do things that we would never normally do and take on more or attempt to do too much. This can lead to a lack of purpose and feeling powerless to control one’s life.
If we never express ourselves openly and conceal our thoughts and feelings this can make us feel tense, stressed, anxious or resentful. It can also lead to unhealthy and uncomfortable relationships. We will feel like the people closest to us don’t really know us. Have you ever been mad at someone or had them be mad at you because of something that was said or done that one person was upset about but the other didn’t even realize? Or how about that friend who still hadn’t paid you back? This is another way that being passive or unassertive can affect one’s life.
Being Unassertive is Stressful
On the other hand, if we constantly communicate in an aggressive manner we will eventually lose friends and people will lose respect for us because they don’t want to be around someone who violates their rights. Again this can lead to low self-esteem due to the feeling of alienation or even abandonment due to that habitual violation of the rights of others.
How did this happen?
Assertiveness is a learned behavior and thinking style. We are all born assertive. Think about when you were a baby. Expressing your emotions was how you communicated. Over time, a baby adapts and changes their behavioral responses to fit the responses they get from the environment and situation. For example, if your family or friends dealt with conflict by yelling and arguing, then you may have learned to deal with conflict in that way. If your family taught you that expressing emotions was weakness so you quickly learned to not express them. If your family believe that you should put others needs before your own, you may find it challenging to be assertive about your needs.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help discover the contributing factors to the development of your communication style and learned behavior.
- How did your family handle conflict?
- How did they communicate with each other?
- What did they do when they disagreed with somebody or were upset with people?
- How did your parents teach you to deal with conflict?
- What were their messages?
- In what ways did you learn to get what you wanted without asking for it directly? (e.g., crying, yelling, making threats etc.)
- Do you still use these ways to get what you want today? (They may not look exactly the same so look closely)
As we grow up, we start to learn that there are good and valid reasons for being unassertive. Part of it stems from learning to behave in works for us at the time. Being Assertive to Aggressive parents or friends may get us into more conflict; perhaps we learned to be aggressive to survive and that it is a perpetuating cycle among friends and family of learned aggressive behavior.
This next part can be hard, it is important that you don’t blame yourself or your family for your lack of assertiveness. It can be more helpful to think of it as a vicious cycle that you and your family have been caught in. The cycle reinforces itself and just keeps going until it is broken. Assertive ways of thinking and behaving are a means to breaking that cycle.
Assertiveness is an essential quality for our lives. It will greatly help us avoid problems when interacting with those around us. Added to that, it’s vital for us to be able to not lose patience and live life in a more balanced, relaxed way.
Assertiveness is being able to value our own rights. We don’t have to be passive or aggressive to achieve this. We do this by also respecting the rights of other people.
Although it seems like something that should be quite simple to put into practice, it isn’t always so easy.
Most people aren’t as assertive as they should be, or even not at all. To try to find out why, we’ll often need to go back to our own childhood.
People who have grown up in a home filled with emotional neglect have never been able to develop assertiveness afterwards.
At this point we should remember that when we talk about emotional neglect, we’re referring to when other people ignore our feelings.