People come for counselling for a number of reasons. You might have a clear goal, such as to become more assertive, and be looking specifically for assertiveness counselling.
Whatever your reason is for having therapy, the experience will help you get to know yourself better. As that happens, new goals will probably come up. As you come to understand your relationships more, and think about how you can improve them, you might develop a desire to become more assertive.
Often I find in my counselling work that clients feel unclear or confused about where the boundaries lie between passivity, assertiveness and aggression.
I specialise in helping people to improve their relationships. This includes understanding their interactions with others, and thinking about how they might be able to do things differently to get on better. Sometimes that includes a focus on assertiveness.
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness means being able to stand up for yourself in a calm and positive way. It means expressing your opinions, feelings and needs directly and appropriately. Importantly, it includes doing so in a way that respects the feelings and beliefs of others.
It means being clear, open, and reasonable. You can stand up for your rights without denying anyone else theirs.
What Does Assertiveness Look Like?
- talk openly about what they think and how they feel, and encourage others to do the same
- listen to others and respond appropriately, whether they agree or disagree
- are responsible, but also able to delegate tasks to others where appropriate
- admit their mistakes and apologise when necessary (but don’t go around saying sorry all the time!)
- feel in control of themselves, and don’t feel the need to control others
- see themselves as equal to others and act accordingly
- say thank you
The Passive – Assertive – Aggressive Continuum
Being assertive is the healthy middle ground between being passive and being aggressive.
Everyone acts in passive or aggressive ways sometimes. You might have learnt that way of being as a child and only now be becoming aware of it or realising that it is a problem. It could be causing problems for you, or others around you. For example if you are overly passive, you might not be speaking up and getting your needs met. On the other hand if you are aggressive, you might be upsetting people you care about.
If you have been behaving passively for a long time, you might feel unclear as to the difference between assertiveness and aggression, and worry that if you stand up for yourself more, people will find you aggressive.
If you have been behaving in aggressive or overbearing ways, you might worry that by stepping back and adjusting your behaviour, you will become a pushover.
Assertiveness counselling can help to clarify what is passive, what is aggressive, and what is assertive.
What Does Passivity Look Like?
When you behave passively, you put other people’s wants before your own needs.
This could be because you worry about other people not liking you. It could be because you had or have an aggressive or overbearing parent or partner, and it felt like the easiest – or only – way to be around them.
You might end up doing things you don’t want to or taking on more than you can handle. You might also have let others take the lead, take responsibility, or make decisions for you.
Passivity is often rooted in low self-esteem. Sadly the more you behave in this way, the more people are likely to take advantage of you. This will make your sense of self-worth even lower.
What does Aggression Look Like?
When you behave aggressively, you are not thinking about other people’s views or feelings.
The word aggression might make you think of shouting or physical violence. There are a wide range of other aggressive behaviours too. You might put someone down, manipulate them, or fail to show them any appreciation. You might rush them unnecessarily, tell them rather than ask them, ignore them, or act without considering their feelings.
If you are aggressive, you might find others being aggressive in return, or you might find them being passive in the hope of an easy life. It can be frightening or distressing to be treated aggressively. Sometimes the victim of the aggression will blame him or herself, especially if they are a child.
How Can Assertiveness Counselling Help?
If you decide to come for assertiveness counselling, we will take some time to understand your past. We will think together about the key figures in your background. Perhaps one of your parents was aggressive, and you became passive as a coping mechanism. Or maybe you learnt your way of being directly from one parent, because that’s where you learnt what it was to be a man or woman.
We will also take the time to get in touch with your feelings and see what we can learn from them. Only when you know how you feel can you really be clear about what you want. And only when you know what you want will you be able to communicate it directly and assertively to others.
Sometimes at the root of aggression, there is fear and hurt. Having the time and space to get to what is going on underneath can make a great difference to how you feel. This can be the first step to changing your behaviour.
We can combine our exploration with some Cognitive behavioural Therapy (CBT), to help you learn how to:
- recognise assertive behaviour
- think more assertively
- behave more assertively
- reduce physical tension
- say “no”
- deal with criticism
- deal with disappointment
- give and receive compliments
Finally, you might like to look at assertiveness counselling as a kind of experimental laboratory where you can try out new ways of behaving in a safe space with someone you trust. You can practice talking openly and taking responsibility. You might also like to think about how you see yourself in relation to others, and by understanding yourself better you should over time come to feel better about yourself.
What To Do Next
If you are in or near Brighton and Hove and you’re interested in booking a reduced-fee first session to see what assertiveness counselling could do for you, please get in touch.