Own Your Assertiveness

Updated March 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We often think of "standing our ground" as a negative tactic, and something only mean or overly aggressive people do. Despite this characterization, it can sometimes be beneficial to learn a few tactics to assert yourself—and may, in some instances, even be necessary. Knowing how to assert yourself can give you a psychological edge in situations where others may be trying to control you. While assertiveness may not come easily to everyone, you can learn strategies to be more assertive in certain situations, such as through online therapy.

Assertiveness is all about being able to express yourself when interacting with people at work, in your relationships, or in other realms of life. When you are assertive, you are better able to articulate your desires, needs, boundaries, and opinions without being overpowered or silenced. Being assertive does not mean being aggressive, nor does it mean being passive; instead, when you are assertive, you are able to express your opinion in a polite and professional (yet firm) way. You can be assertive and still respect othersaround you.

Learning About Being Assertive

Although being assertive is a strength, being assertive has a reputation (particularly in the United States) of being pushy, aggressive, or rude—especially when women are the ones exhibiting assertive behavior. Yet there is a way to have poise, self-assurance, and dignity without being rude. Consequently, it can be difficult to learn how to be assertive or maintain an assertive attitude. After all, who wants to be known as aggressive, bossy, or domineering? Nevertheless, being assertive is an important part of engaging in positive psychology practices, as it allows you to set boundaries, demonstrate self-respect, and prioritize your own mental health and physical needs.

Becoming Assertive Can Help You Better Communicate Your Needs

Factors That Might Hold You Back

There are many factors contributing to people having challenges with being assertive. These might include some points below:

  • Feeling stress and anxiety when interacting with others. Having a psychological edge often means having a “thick skin,” or not exerting a great deal of effort trying to get other people to like you. The psychological edge of assertiveness can be difficult to adopt when stress and anxiety influence or outright dominate your interactions with others.

  • Having low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy. Low self-esteem often makes it difficult to set boundaries or express needs, making assertive behavior seem out of reach. Your thoughts and beliefs might be rooted in passivity and the benefits of not having to stick up for yourself. Yet using your voice to express your point of view, a specific belief, or world statements can help you have more balance.

  • Being raised to believe that offering your opinion was arguing. This notion of assertiveness persists today, despite the positive psychology associated with setting personal boundaries and learning to be assertive. Some parents who adopt a more authoritarian model of parenting may cultivate the notion that compliance and obedience are the top priority, and that questioning authority is unacceptable. In obedience psychology, this can make the child obey out of fear of the punishment and not because they just wanted to behave well. Research indicates that both authoritarian and passive parenting styles can have detrimental effects on youth.

  • Being afraid of conflict. A fear of conflict often results from an unstable childhood, or unhealthy familial relationships encountered in one’s youth. Assertive behavior can bring about conflict as a natural consequence, as many people do not like to see others assert themselves and express their needs and can feel too alarming to actually pursue.

  • Having a fear of damaging relationships. Although a healthy relationship does not balk at appropriate boundaries, unhealthy relationships often have a dramatic and even violent reaction to any attempts at being assertive.

  • Equating criticism with people disliking us. Parents, peers, teachers, and managers can all look down upon assertive behavior—and these individuals are often the very people we hope to impress. It is easy to avoid assertive behavior out of a fear of experiencing criticism.

  • Wanting to avoid rejection. Similarly, a fear of rejection can lead to the absence of assertiveness; after all, what is the point in expressing ourselves, if it makes everyone leave? 

  • Growing up in an environment that reinforced gender stereotypes. In some households or cultures,  females are taught to remain quiet, meek, and subservient. Although there has been pushback against the stereotype of women needing to be seen and not heard, much like children, there are still many cultures and areas of the United States today in which women are seen as unfeminine if they speak their mind or stand up for themselves. Males, however, are often encouraged to have nerve, self-possession, make requests, set goals, express their views, and not worry about the responses, leading them to be more assertive. 

How Can Being Assertive Benefit You?

Some people are naturally assertive, but for the majority, learning to be assertive is a skill that takes practice, just like any other communication skill. Assertiveness can improve your self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, reduce your stress, and control your anger. If you are too aggressive or too passive when delivering your opinion or message, it may be ignored by others who are too busy reacting to listen. It's not just what you say; it is how you say it that makes you heard. Being assertive can help you:

  • Restore your self-confidence. Expressing your needs, creating boundaries, and reclaiming the rights reserved for carving out your own wants, needs, and desires can help you feel more self-sufficient, strong, and empowered. This can increase your pride, courage, and sense of self.

  • Understand your feelings. People who are unwilling to assert themselves are often unwilling to deeply investigate their own feelings, in part because they feel as though they have to deny themselves for the comfort of others. Learning how to assert yourself often means, as a natural consequence, learning how to investigate and understand your own feelings.

  • Be respected by others. Although you may experience some pushback when you first begin asserting yourself, those who recognize the importance of boundaries and self-respect will grow to respect your ability to recognize your needs, your limits, and your ideas.

  • Avoid conflicts or find solutions for conflicts. If you are too meek to speak up, chances are that you will not be able to find adequate solutions to problems at home or in the workplace. Learning how to speak up can ease myriad issues.

  • Resolve internal conflicts (such as feelings of stress, resentment, anger, jealousy, revenge, and victimization). Being assertive is a significant part of communicating effectively, in all areas of your life. Personal relationships, workplace relationships, and even romantic attachments can all benefit from more assertive communication.

  • Improve communication and problem-solving at home or work. Problems and difficulties are challenging to work through without honest, straightforward communication. Assertiveness helps maintain this type of communication.

  • Improve your ability to make decisions. Decision-making requires self-confidence and presence of mind, both of which are more thoroughly rooted in assertiveness than in timidity.

  • Create relationships built on honesty and trust. Many relationships mired in meek behavior and an unwillingness to communicate honestly and openly are riddled with resentment, fear, and feelings of inadequacy. Being assertive in your communication and behavior can help set a strong foundation for relationship communication.

  • Be more satisfied with your job or with your home life. Assertiveness is, at its core, a willingness to ask for or demand what you want and need. Although it may not initially feel comfortable or even acceptable, you might not be able to expect to have the job, life, or relationship you desire if you do not communicate what it is that you truly want.

  • Show more empathy toward others. Far from coming from a place of selfishness and egoism, being assertive, yourself, can help you recognize when others need a helping hand in being assertive, and can help you develop empathy for individuals who do not yet feel safe or comfortable speaking their mind.

Aggression can get you the results you want, but it comes at a cost. You may lose respect and trust, or influence others to resent, avoid, or set themselves against you. Remember that assertiveness is not aggressiveness; one is an effective way of communicating openly and honestly, while the other is a way of bullying, commanding, and demeaning others.

Tactics To Change From Being Passive Or Aggressive To Being Assertive

Passiveness or passive-aggression may be one way of interacting with others who are aggressive, but over time, this behavior can damage your relationships and you may lose respect. Passive-aggression can also lead a person to be sarcastic, negative, and resentful of others who seem to always get their way. If how you communicate and manage conflict is not working for you and you feel you need to make some changes, consider the following ideas to change from being passive or aggressive to becoming assertive:

  • Assess your present style of communication. Do you tend to remain silent? Do you say “Yes” when you want to say ”No”? Do you blame others for how you feel? Do you project anger, jealousy, or resentment?

  • Take advantage of online personality assessments. Personality tests on the internet – such as enneagram or Myers-Briggs assessments -- can help you determine your style and personality. Knowing this information about yourself can inform your communication and working styles, and can help you determine your strengths and area where you can improve.

  • Practice saying “No” instead of always saying ”Yes”. Saying “No” may initially feel rude, but it is actually a way of exercising self-respect. Saying “No” to something simply means you recognize your own needs, boundaries, and limitations.

  • Try to use "I" statement when communicating or disagreeing with others. Statements like, "You are wrong" may cause a person to think that you are making an assertion about their identity, versus their behavior. We are biologically wired to defend ourselves against such criticism, and “I” statements place the focus on you and your feelings. You might instead say, "I disagree", or "I would prefer this and not that."

  • Change communication styles to be less demanding. Do you tend to tell others what to do like a sergeant major? If so, try to work out how to communicate your needs and tailor your own behavior, rather than trying to make demands of others, or insist on having your own way. Instead of making imperative statements (which may start with a verb, like “Do ____ right now” or “Get me ____,”) try incorporating more questions into your everyday conversation, which can demonstrate a curiosity and willingness to hear different perspectives or ways of doing things.

  • Be willing to listen before you make decisions. Listening is far from passive. Active listening means actually sitting still, maintaining eye contact, and paying attention when someone speaks, instead of merely trying to formulate a response, or practice a rebuttal. Listen to others before you create a response or carry out a decision.

  • Rehearse what you want to say. Practice a script. Have a friend listen and give you honest feedback. Were you too loud? Were you not loud enough? Did you appear shy and unsure of yourself when talking?

  • Keep your emotions on an even keel. Try not to respond in anger. This can be extremely difficult, and one of the simplest but most effective ways to avoid reactionary behavior is to take time to breathe. Taking five, ten, or fifteen seconds to breathe deeply before you respond to someone can take much of the initial sting out of hurt, anger, or unkindness. It may also help to keep in mind that, when you hear uncomfortable or irritating commentary from someone, it may not necessarily be about you. Perhaps the other person is having challenges with their own insecurities or ways of going about resolving conflict.

  • Tune in to your body language. Do you make eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking? Do you act like you don't know what to do with your hands? What expression do you have on your face and are your emotions hard to read? Is your body oriented toward a person who is talking to you? Nonverbal communication actually constitutes the majority of how we interpret statements – changing your body language can have a significant impact on how others receive your responses.

  • Avoid feeling the need to explain yourself during an emotional moment. Saying “I feel upset right now, and need some time to work through this” or “I need to step away for a minute, then I’d like to return to the conversation) is a perfectly legitimate request. Some people take longer to process information than others, which is also normal. Taking time away to process your emotions can help you avoid saying something that could harm a relationship or undermine your own needs.

  • Practice, practice practice. Do you hide your true feelings and say nothing, or agree with everyone else's ideas? If so, slowly practice asserting yourself more. Speak up at a family event, or say you want to decide where the office should order take-out that day.

Tips For Being Assertive In The Moment

Still not sure how to work assertive behavior into your daily life? That’s okay! Learning a new skill takes time and a great deal of practice. The tips below can offer additional insight into how to become more assertive in the moment.

Be Confident

When someone may be trying to take advantage of you, stay firm and confident. It's important to stand your ground, even if you feel anxious because of their behavior. Demonstrate that you know exactly what you want, and you know how events are going to unfold. Visualize the optimal outcome of the situation you want. You may not be an authority figure over the person you are speaking with, but you are the authority on you, and you can exude your confidence in your ability to make your own decisions. You are able to use your physical presence to look more confident with these strategies:

  • Adopt a relaxed pose by leaning back, taking up space, or putting your hands behind your head

  • Talk and move slowly, showing that you are not rushed or bothered

  • Stay still -- fidgeting or moving around a lot may indicate that your muscles are tense or that you are nervous

Be Kind

Being kind to people you want something from may seem counterintuitive, but, it’s one of the most effective ways to maintain control. Exhibiting kindness while being assertive is not the same as being a doormat or being passive. It is also not about letting others have their way. When you continue to speak pleasantly to someone, despite what they are saying, you are showing them that you are unaffected by their threats and are able to hold your ground. Think about it: someone who is screaming uncontrollably may be intimidating, but it's more likely that they are acting this way because they feel they have lost control of the situation.

Become Friends With Silence

Becoming Assertive Can Help You Better Communicate Your Needs

A silent and steady gaze can be quite enlightening. It communicates to the other person that you are paying attention to them and hearing exactly what they are saying, yet you aren't being reactive. Many people are uncomfortable with silence, and if you are staying quiet, they may feel the need to fill the void. The key to maintaining silence and not giving into peer pressure is to make eye contact rather than look like you're silent because you're giving up. You don't have to stare at them constantly or try to stare them down—that could be an aggressive stance to take—instead just stand your ground and do your best not to cower in the face of their anger or aggression.

Help Is There With Online Therapy

Learning to be assertive doesn't happen overnight. It can take time, energy, and practice. Remember: it likely took years for you to develop your personality and making changes won't happen all at once. Take little steps and be proud of your accomplishments, even if they are small. Ignore anyone who ridicules you or tries to silence you. You may be on your way to possessing a type of inner calm and knowingness that they may not have attained, which can feel intimidating to those who have difficulty controlling their emotions or receiving criticism

Online therapy can be a wonderful avenue for learning and practicing strategies to become more assertive. Scheduling appointments at a time that works for you and from a preferred location involves a level of agency in its own right, and online therapy platforms like BetterHelp enable this kind of flexibility and decision-making. After you complete the initial questionnaire, you’ll be matched with a licensed online therapist who is uniquely qualified to assist you in your area of need, whether that’s discussingmore ideas in the workplace, communicating your needs to a romantic partner, who setting boundaries with people in all areas of life.

Online therapists may use a form of talk therapy – called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – to help participants reframe their thoughts and come to view assertiveness as a positive attribute. Some studies even show that online therapy can be more effective than face-to-face treatment, particularly when it comes to people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. While feelings of nervousness may emerge as you transition from becoming passive to assertive, and it may be difficult to leave behind an aggressive or passive identity as you work to build a more assertive self-concept, your BetterHelp therapist will be there to provide encouragement in a nonjudgmental way.


Investing effort into becoming more assertive is challenging, but worthwhile emotional work. In doing so, you stand to experience greater happiness and confidence at work, in relationships, and in your other pursuits. With BetterHelp, you can work with an online counselor who will honor your identity and hold you accountable, in a loving way, to more assertively and respectfully communicate your needs, opinions, and self with the world. Take the first step today.

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