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Assertive, Nonassertive, and Aggressive Behaviors

In every situation, you have three choices as to how you should behave; assertive, nonassertive (aka passive), and aggressive.  Although assertive behavior can be one of the healthiest methods to maintain personal self-esteem and foster healthy relationships with others, it may not always be the best choice. Certain situations, particularly those that are threatening to personal or emotional safety may demand nonassertive or aggressive behavior.

The trick is to become adept at using all three behavioral options so you can effectively choose which will work best for you in the moment. Sometimes, you may not be happy with the outcome of a situation, but if you choose the course of your behavior, you can at least feel good about that.


Characteristics of assertive behavior include expressing your feelings, needs, ideas, and rights in ways that don’t violate the rights of others. Assertive behavior is usually honest, direct, expressive, spontaneous, and self-enhancing. Assertive persons make their own choices, are confident, and feel good about themselves while being assertive and afterward. They usually achieve their goals; when they don’t, they still feel good about themselves because they know they have been straightforward. Acting assertively reinforces their good feelings about themselves, improves self-confidence, and creates free, honest, and open relationships with others.

NONASSERTIVE BEHAVIOR (sometimes called “Passive Behavior”)

Characteristics of nonassertive behavior include not expressing feelings, needs, and ideas; ignoring personal rights; and allowing others to infringe upon them. Nonassertive behavior is usually emotionally dishonest, indirect, inhibited, and self-denying. Nonassertive persons often let other people choose for them and end up feeling disappointed in themselves and angry with them; at best, they can be described as passive, at worst as a doormat. People often choose nonassertive behavior to avoid unpleasant situations, tension, conflict, and confrontation.


Characteristics of aggressive behavior include expressing your feelings, needs, and ideas at the expense of others.  Aggressive persons stand up for their rights, but ignore the rights of others; they may dominate or humiliate other people. While this behavior is expressive, it is also defensive, hostile, and self-defeating.


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