When you need to be more assertive


by Annie Kaszina on April 25, 2017

“I need to be more assertive.” my lovely client said, shaking her head in disappointment at herself. “I should have been able to…”

There followed any one of the following list that we have all said to ourselves at one time or another.

“I should have…”

  1. Stood up for myself.
  2. Said “No”.
  3. Walked away.
  4. Come out with a really good reply.
  5. Le the person know that what they were saying was unacceptable.
  6. Told the person that I deserve better than that.

In short, my client was reproaching herself for not being more assertive.   When she played the “assertiveness” card, she looked at me, curiously, waiting for me to agree with her.

“What do you think stopped you?” I asked, while my brain computed what was really going on.

“I don’t want to be aggressive.”

(That one again!)  My lovely client did not want to risk being seen as a b***ch.

I smiled at her and said,

Assertiveness training is overrated

“You know I think assertiveness is SO overrated.” I said. “I hate assertiveness.  It always makes me think of Assertiveness Training .  Dogs get Obedience Training. Nervous humans get Assertiveness Training.

“The women  I’ve met who have done assertiveness training were women who had been trained – by their significant others – to be submissive (absolutely NO 50 Shades of Grey-type nuance intended).  As I see it, assertiveness Training is all about teaching submissive people how to be less submissive.”

“So, what is wrong with that?” she asked.

“At best, it is a way of responding that you graft on top of your underlying submissiveness – without actually getting rid of the underlying submissiveness. It will only help you so much, especially if you still have the underlying fear about overstepping the assertiveness mark and becoming aggressive.”

One aspect of an emotionally abusive relationship  perhaps needs stating here. Women who have been trained into submission by an abusive parent or sibling, learn an – unhealthy – disregard for their own passivity.

When a submissive woman meet san emotionally abusive potential partner she may well be attracted by what he has that she lacks.

Abusers shift between assertiveness and aggression/bullying  swiftly and naturally – as we all know to our cost. Small wonder that we, on the receiving end of their spleen, experience  life as a continuum that looks like this:

The Passivity Continuum

Passivity   –> Assertiveness   –>  Aggression

What you experience around an emotional abuser is not necessarily an accurate reflection of how the World really functions.

My lovely client has moved a long way forward without  having to undertake assertiveness training.  She did not need to start now.

Authenticity outperforms assertiveness any day.

As I pointed out to my lovely client, submissiveness is a learned behaviour. We learn to be submissive when we know that standing up for ourselves will expose us to risk.  Most of us learn that in childhood. When you are small, a furious adult or older sibling is a oretty scary experience.

When you are a child, keeping your head below the parapet makes good sense.

As an adult, you always have a range of options.

The most effective option is, always, to tap into your authentic self.

My lovely client had already started to do that. In fact, we had done a fair bit of work (which felt more like play) on empowering her to shoot from the hip, spontaneously and playfully.

Benefits of passivity

Interestingly, when she – or any of my lovely clients – do tap into their authentic self, two things happen.

  1. It proves very, very effective. It stops the emotional aggressor, instantly, in their tracks.
  2. It is so gentle that NOBODY GETS HURT.

Authenticity trumps assertiveness every time because authenticity has nothing to do with attack – or defence.

Authenticity simply enables you to stand your ground in such a way that the other person is obliged to undertake a reality check.

One lovely client, especially, has mastered the art of authenticity so successfully – when she is in “The Zone” that she has a talent for turning snippy people into her raving fans. (That doesn’t mean she would have them as friends but it certainly shifts the balance of power in a way that is advantageous to her.)

Assertiveness is a tool.  Authenticity is a lifestyle.

No emotionally abused woman needs to spend any more time punishing herself for what she is not.  Every emotionally abused woman needs – and deserves – to spend time – a LOT of time – celebrating herself for who she is and her authenticity

Anyone who has ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship of any kind has been taught to be second best. Assertiveness may help people to become a better second best.  Only authenticity will enable you to truly step into your own amazingness.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Teri Strong-Estes April 27, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Dr. Annie, I agree that assertiveness is a tool. Authenticity is a lifestyle. However, I propose that assertiveness used as a tool while becoming authentic is an important, perhaps life saving tool for people in abusive situations. It’s a long road. We both know. But it takes one step at a time for people still in abusive relationships.

With respect and kind regards,

Teri K Estes, Ph.D.


Annie Kaszina April 29, 2017 at 2:14 am

Hi Dr Annie,

The problem I find with assertiveness is that it can take a person out of the moment and into thinking, “How should I behave?”

However, the important thing is that whether someone who is recovering from emotional abuse tries to be authentic or assertive there are times when they will not behave as effectively as they would wish. When that happens, they need to honor their wounds and their fears, as opposed to give themselves a bad time about it.

Warm wihses,



Carolyn June 16, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Thanks again Annie for your wisdom. How well I remember my emotionally abusive wasband of thirty years suggesting I SHOULD be more assertive and actually buying the book for me. Frankly I don’t think assertiveness is a way to deal with abuse.


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