Aggressive Communication and Social Anxiety Disorder

women having argument in office

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Aggressive communication is a method of expressing needs and desires that does not take in to account the welfare of others. A harmful communication style, aggressive communication can end up worsening social anxiety by making others view you more harshly. In turn, this can lower your self-esteem as you worry you are being judged negatively by those around you.

If you have social anxiety, you may have suppressed your own needs for so long that you end up resorting to aggressive communication. Learning how to be assertive will help you to better manage your emotions so that they don't reach a boiling point.

What Is Aggressive Communication?

During aggressive communication, you stand up for yourself in a way that is inappropriate and may violate the rights of others. You may find that people seem exhausted, overwhelmed or drained after talking with you when you are in an aggressive state. Some people also establish their superiority through aggressive communication by putting others down.

Verbal characteristics of aggressive communication include sarcasm, a harsh tone of voice and condescending statements like

  • "How could you think that was a good idea?" or
  • "Don't be stupid."

Nonverbal cues of aggressive communication include

  • Intruding into someone's personal space
  • Aggressive gestures like pointing or clenched fists
  • Sneering and smirking

Whereas assertive communication has a goal of meeting the needs of others and yourself, aggressive communication serves no purpose other than to vent frustrations and hurt others. When you communicate in this way, you are not seeking a solution—rather you are letting your emotions get the best of you.

Why It's Harmful

In the moment, aggressive communication can feel very satisfying, particularly if you have social anxiety and are used to not speaking up. You may get your way by bullying others and it may give you a sense of power and control. If you lack this feeling in your life, you may become addicted to it through aggressive communication.

However, aggressive communication is likely to result in the development of enemies and hurt relationships with loved ones. After you have hurt someone you care about, you may feel shame or guilt. This can also inhibit your social skills and make future social situations much more difficult for you. In this way, communicating aggressively becomes a vicious cycle from which you cannot escape.

Finding Better Ways to Communicate

Rather than depending on the anger and bluster of aggressive communication, many people with social anxiety find it beneficial to learn assertive communication skills.

In assertive communication, you convey your needs openly and honestly, without impeding the needs of others. Instead of a harsh tone and aggressive gestures, verbal characteristics of assertive communication include

  • A firm but relaxed tone
  • The use of "I" statements like, "I was hurt when you ignored me."

Assertive communication respects personal space and does not involve yelling or intimidation. You are seeking to have others understand your needs so that they can be met, as well as learning of the needs of others so that you can help them as well.

During assertive communication, you listen respectfully to truly hear the other person. The more you stand up for yourself without harming others in the process, the more your self-esteem will grow. With social anxiety, it's common to let anger build up. But with assertive communication, you address things calmly in the moment so that resentment does not develop.

Press Play for Advice On Communicating Better

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring best-selling author Celeste Headlee, shares how to have better conversations. Click below to listen now.

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A Word From Verywell

Learning to progress from aggressive communication to assertive communication can be a difficult process. Many with social anxiety find that a skilled therapist with experience in anxiety disorders can be a huge help.

Your healthcare provider can help you identify situations in which you rely on aggressiveness and will help you develop strategies to combat the desire to respond aggressively. Together, you will work on developing assertive communication skills and will practice different situations so you are prepared to handle them appropriately.

Over time, you will be able to assert yourself firmly but responsibly, without harming others through force or intimidation. This can be a major step forward in your social anxiety treatment plan.

7 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. Keyes KM, McLaughlin KA, Vo T, Galbraith T, Heimberg RG. ANXIOUS AND AGGRESSIVE: THE CO-OCCURRENCE OF IED WITH ANXIETY DISORDERSDepress Anxiety. 2016;33(2):101–111. doi:10.1002/da.22428

  2. University of Kentucky. The Four Basic Styles of Communication.

  3. Oregon State. Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness.

  4. Princeton University. Choosing Your Communication Style.

  5. University of Iowa. A Comparison of Non-Assertive, Assertive, and Aggressive Communication.

  6. Kashdan TB, McKnight PE. The darker side of social anxiety: When aggressive impulsivity prevails over shy inhibition. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2010 Feb;19(1):47-50. doi:10.1177%2F0963721409359280

  7. Lock, A. Overcoming Social Anxiety Through Assertive Communication. National Social Anxiety Center.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."