Reduce Stress With Increased Assertiveness

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Typically, stress reduction tips revolve around getting some exercise or talking it out. Assertiveness isn't usually on the list of ways to reduce stress. However, you may be surprised by how becoming more assertive can improve your mood.

What Is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and assert your rights while respecting the feelings and rights of others. Assertive communication is appropriately direct, open, and honest, and clarifies your needs to the other person.

Being assertive comes naturally to some, but it is also a skill that can be learned. And there are many advantages of becoming more assertive, making it worth the effort.

Benefits of Being Assertive

Assertive people tend to have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others. This translates into less stress in their everyday lives. They get their needs met (which equates to less frustration over unmet needs) and help others get their needs met, too.

Having stronger, more supportive relationships means that, if you are ever in a bind, you have people that you can count on. This also helps with stress management and even leads to a healthier body.

Studies have also found that assertiveness is positively associated with self-esteem. In other words, the more assertive you are, the better you tend to think of yourself.

Assertiveness Versus Other Behaviors

Sometimes people confuse assertiveness with other relationship-based behaviors. How does being assertive compare to being aggressive or passive, specifically?

Being Assertive Versus Being Aggressive

Assertiveness can be confused with aggressiveness, since both types of behavior involve standing up for one’s rights and expressing one’s needs. The key difference between the two styles is that individuals behaving assertively express themselves in ways that respect the other person.

In contrast, individuals behaving aggressively tend to employ tactics that are disrespectful, manipulative, demeaning, or abusive. They often make negative assumptions about others' motives and think in retaliatory terms, or they don’t think of the other person’s point of view at all.

Aggressiveness can alienate others and create unnecessary stress. Those on the receiving end of aggressive behavior often feel attacked and, as a result, avoid the aggressive individual.

Over time, people who behave aggressively can have a string of failed relationships and little social support. They don’t always understand that this is related to their own behavior. Ironically, they may feel like victims themselves.

Assertiveness Compared to Passiveness

Passive individuals are the direct opposite of assertive. They don’t know how to adequately communicate their feelings and tend to fear conflict so much that they don't reveal their emotions in order to "keep the peace." They let their needs go unmet, so others win while they lose out.

Passive behavior damages relationships in the long run, sometimes turning them toxic. By avoiding confrontation, it's easy to become increasingly angry, so when you finally do say something, it comes out aggressively.

If you stay quiet most of the time, the other party often doesn’t even know there’s a problem until you explode. This leads to hard feelings, weaker relationships, and even more passivity (to avoid the conflict again) in the future.

Passive-Aggressiveness Is Somewhere in Between

Some people are passive-aggressive, meaning that they appear to be passive, yet show aggressiveness indirectly. An example of this is feeling hurt by your partner so you no longer cook their meals or wash their clothes.

This type of communication style can be damaging to a relationship as well. It sends mixed messages when your words say that you are okay but your actions suggest that you are not.

What Does Assertiveness Look Like?

Here are some common scenarios, with examples of each style of behavior:

Scenario A: Someone cuts in front of you at the supermarket.

An aggressive response to this situation would be to assume that they did it on purpose and angrily respond with, “Hey, jerk! No cuts!”

A passive response would be to let the person stay in front of you and say nothing at all.

A passive-aggressive response would be to let the person stay in front of you but sigh loudly to show your disgust.

An assertive response would be to assume that they may not have seen you in line and politely say, “Excuse me, but I was waiting to be helped.”

Scenario B: Your friend calls to vent about their bad day. Unfortunately, you have a lot of work to do and don’t have time to talk.

An aggressive response would be to become angry because they obviously don’t respect your time, cut them off, and sarcastically say, “Oh, get over it! I have my own problems!”

A passive response would be to let your friend talk for as long as they need and become resolved that you won't hit your deadline because they need your help.

A passive-aggressive response would be to let them talk, yet throw in little "jabs," such as by saying, "I understand that you feel stressed by not having enough time to get everything done today. I feel that way too because I keep getting interrupted."

An assertive response would be to listen for a minute or two, then compassionately say, “Wow, it sounds like you’re having a tough day! I’d love to talk to you about it, but I don’t have the time right now. Can we chat later tonight?”

How to Become More Assertive

The first step in becoming more assertive is to take an honest look at yourself and how you communicate. The answers to the following questions can help you better understand whether you may not be assertive enough in your relationships.

  • Do you have difficulty accepting constructive criticism, causing you to become numb and shut down?
  • Do you find yourself saying yes to requests that you should really say no to, just to avoid disappointing people?
  • Do you have trouble voicing a difference of opinion with others or feel attacked when they don't think the same, so you don't typically share your opinion at all?
  • Does your communication style tend to alienate others when you do disagree with them, such as by employing the silent treatment?

If you answered yes to several of these, you may benefit from learning a few assertiveness skills. Using "I" statements, for instance, is a way to share how you feel without assigning blame. An example of this is saying, "I feel like I am being attacked when I share my opinion with you."

A variation of this is to say, "The story I tell myself when you respond to my difference of opinion is that you don't like me if I don't think the same." This lets the other person know how you are feeling while also enabling them to correct any misconceptions you may have about their behaviors or motives.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ames D, Lee A, Wazlawek A. Interpersonal assertiveness: Inside the balancing act. Soc Personal Psy Compass. 2017;11(6). doi:10.1111/spc3.12317

  2. Unal S. Evaluating the effect of self-awareness and communication techniques on nurses' assertiveness and self-esteem. Contemp Nurse. 2012;43(1):90-8. doi:10.5172/conu.2012.43.1.90

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.