Seeds of Light Foundation

Assert Yourself.

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What is Assertiveness?

The word assertiveness is used to describe a certain kind of behaviour.

It is behaviour which helps us to communicate clearly and confidently our NEEDS, WANTS and FEELINGS to other people without abusing in any way their human rights. It is an alternative to passive; aressive and manipulative behaviou.

If we want to be assertive we must:

  • Decide what we want.
  • Decide if it is fair
  • Ask clearly for it.
  • Not be afraid of taking risks.
  • Be calm and relaxed.
  • Express our feelings openly.
  • Give and take compliments easily
  • Give and take fair criticism.

We must not:

  • Beat about the bush.
  • Go behind people's backs.
  • Bully.
  • Call people names.
  • Bottle up our feelings.

Very few people manage to be assertive in all areas of their lift. Some of us manage to be assertive at home but have difficulties at work. Others may be fine when they are working but are unable to assert themselves within their personal relationships.


Why Are We Unassertive?

"The child is Father to the man." - Wordsworth.

Those of us who are parents will remember only too well how little fear our new-born babies had about communicating their needs and feeling in an open and direct manner! As babies they may not have acquired the more sophisticated assertive skills of judging whether their demands are fair, or making requests in a calm relaxed manner but they certainly do not beat about the bush. Very quickly, however children learn to adapt their behaviour according to the kind of response their requests receive. They may learn that by behaving as a good, quiet, sweet little child they get the goodies that they need or want. Alternatively, they may find that shouting screaming and kicking bring a quicker and more satisfying response.

At school, children also go through the same unconscious learning process. There, they may find that the behaviour that worked best at home does not get the same results at school. They begin to experiment with different approaches and responses.

This process of learning to adapt our behaviour to suit different social relationships is easier for some of us than others. Much will depend on how successful and satisfying our relationships with the most important figures in our life have been.

  • If our demands for physical and emotional nourishment from our parents or parent substitutes were well met - we will find the process of adapting our behaviour to different situations relatively easy.

  • If our early basic demands were not well satisified - we will try again elsewhere. Unfortunately we may try in the most inappropriate places and end up getting rejected.

For example; a child who tries to get his basic needs fulfilled at school may well get rebuffed and punished for being "artention-seeking", "clingy" or "over-anxious to please."

In our 'sophisticated' Western society we generally cater for the physical needs of children reasonably well. Catering adequately for their emotional needs on the other hand, is often not so easily achieved.

If we wish our children to grow up into confident, assertive adults, we will need to provide them with the following:

  • A MODEL OF ASSERTIVE BEHAVIOUR - someone who is assertive with them and whom they trust and respect and will want to be like.

  • LOVE AND ENCOURAGEMENT - to build up a sense of their own worth.

  • CARING CRITICISM - to enable them to see themselves, their actions, and their demands realistically.

  • A SENSE OF VALUES - to help them assess their own and others' rights.

  • A BASIC FEEHNG OF SECURITY - to enable them to experiment with risks and make mistakes.


This is, of course, a very tall order which very few of us can meet. We can take comfort from this proverb:

"He that hath no children brings them up well."


Of course it isn't only the influence of our parents that we must examine in order to find the cause of our unassertive behaviour. There are many other factors to take into consideration such as:

  • Our position in the family - were we the first, middle or last child?
  • The influence of other relatives - other family members.
  • What sort of school did we go to and how did we get on with the teachers and other children?
  • What did we achieve at school and later at work?
  • Our sex - in our society women tend to be passive while men are often aggressive.
  • Our social class - sometimes money and power make it easier for us to be more assertive though unfortunately they also seem to encourage aggressive behaviour.


Assertiveness Training does not strictly speaking concem itself with the causes of problems but rather with the development of appropriate skills to cope with them. In my groups, however I am finding it more and more helpful to spend some time looking at this question.

Before coming on a course, unassertive people are so busy blaming themselves for being so inadequate that they have not given a thought as to how their personal and social background might have affected their behaviour. A little understanding of how we become unassertive can help reduce the feeling of guilt and give your self-esteem and motivation a boost.

Many centuries ago Virgil came to this same conclusion!


"Happy is he who has been able to learn the cause of things."

- Virgil.

Why Bother to be Assertive?

"When the fight begins within himself the man is worth something."

- Robert Browning.

It is important at the start of any Assertiveness Training programme to be very clear about both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming more assertive. Most people register on my courses because they hope that if they learn to be more assertive, they will get more of what they want.

Unfortunately, this is not always true.

Assertiveness Training helps us to communicate our needs more openly and honestly but it cannot guarantee that they will be met. Assertive behaviour more often leads to compromise and negotiation rather than an outright win for one party. Often, manipulative, 'behind the back' techniques and aggressive behaviour actually gets us more of what we want in terms of material goods or power. It does so, though, often at great expense to our personal relationships and self-esteem.

Biographies of very many powerful and successful people reveal loneliness and feeling of self-deprecation. Assertiveness Training teaches us to behave in such a way so that we do not continually come away from situations feeling bad about ourselves.

We will come away with the satisfaction that we 'did our best' and did not abuse the rights of others. The good news is that people who are generally assertive are confident and relaxed people who are happy simply to be themselves.

"Best be yourself imperial, plain and true."

- Robert Browning.


Assertive people are aware both of their strengths and their weaknesses. They are not afraid of taking risks and know that by doing so, they will probably make many mistakes.

"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."

- Oscar Wilde.


If you are assertive you will view mistakes positively and see them as an opportunity to learn and do better next time. You will have learned to gauge your successes by your own capabilities and potential rather than by continually comparing yourself with other people. Accepting your own capabilities will help you to set yourself realistic goals so that you do not continually put yourself into situations where you will feel a failure.

Being assertive also means accepting that not everyone in the world will be kind and caring towards you. You will develop the ability to spot when you are being abused or 'put down' and you will know how to cope with unfair critcism and exploitation.

Finally, you will learn to use assertiveness appropriately. You will be aware that there are some situations when it is wise to take a back seat, and some where it is appropriate to fight for your, and others, rights.

An obvious example of when assertive behaviour might not be appropriate would be when you or others are in physical danger. Yes, certainly learning to be assertive is worth the effort. Even the process of learning the skills can be challenging and fun.

"Change brings life."



An Assertiveness Training group may be exhausting but most people find the supportive, caring and often humorous atmosphere a wonderful experience. They treasure the unique opportunity to be completely open about their strengths and weaknesses and help each other work constructively on their problems.

The support you can get in an Assertiveness Training group can help you to cope with the inevitable changes in your life and relationships. For some people these changes may take place very smoothly but for others the period of transition can be very stressful.

It is not uncommon for many people at the end of an Assertiveness Training course to feel dissatisfied with some of their previous relationships. As they become more assertive they realize how suffocating these relationships have been and unless the other person is willing to change or adapt, a parting of the ways often results.

The period between ending a friendship and finding a more satisfying replacement can be unsettling. This is when you will find invaluable the support of 'true friends' and your group.

"We are so fond of one another because our ailment are the same."

- Jonathan Swift



Further Reading:

Assert Yourself.
How to reprogramme your mind for positive action.

Gael Lindenfield

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