Assertiveness Goes With Kindness

| August 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

by Mrs. Freud

I love all my clients, I truly do. And there are a few that my heart goes out to even more. Here is why. I often wonder why a kind, intelligent and always giving person is not accepting of behavior on their part. Yet, they put up with it on a daily basis when it comes from someone else.

There is the friend who cancels for the third time because something (better) came up. There is the phone call from the acquaintance who always calls to say how much they would like to get together some day, only to ask for a favor in the meantime. There is the friend who wants you to go for a hike, yet isn’t considerate of your fitness level. There is the fourth call from a different realtor this week wanting to “help.” There is letting “California sliders” go first at the four way stop. There is the neighbor who blasts his radio for hours in your direction while you are trying to relax and enjoy your garden.

I am generally an advocate for liberal acceptance. But I often see how a reoccurrence of these situations wears down some of my clients. Not being assertive changes their world view into that of defeatist. The most strenuous part is that they deny themselves any right to be assertive.

Once in a while they decide to set boundaries. Yet, the outcome is that they usually feel really bad and question themselves over and over again. The result is unhealthy. They start to feel stressed and sometimes experience anxiety or panic attacks. They begin to believe that it is not okay to set boundaries, and that they are a bad person when they assert themselves.

A “taking it” mentality has been adopted as normal. Fact is nobody can always just take it. It is also not a good attitude of our society. Sure, picking our battles is a good idea, and we don´t want to walk through life as the “fairness police.” Yet, it is not physically and mentally healthy to expect us to always take it and hold it in.

So the scale tips in favor of those who abuse others and have no reservations for taking and asking for favors beyond what a balanced relationship would allow. This is not good for healthy self-esteem or for a functionally mature society. What can be done?

My suggestion is to take that bad feeling after asserting yourself, and from a distance, observe what happened. Ask yourself: “If a friend told me about this, what would I suggest?”

We are usually much gentler with our friends and judge harshly if it is about us. An awkward feeling after self assertive behavior can also remind us that we need more practice. We need to do it more often. We can start with determining one pet peeve that we are not willing to let slide anymore. It is great practice and reminder that assertiveness does not mean being angry, unpleasant or loud. Anything can be communicated with determination using an undertone of being helpful and caring.

The clients I mentioned often have so little practice with assertiveness and have waited too long to say something that they tend to over shoot the moon and come on too strong when they attempt to be assertive. But I suggest owning it. Then apologizing for the delivery of the message, but not backing down on the content. I find shooting for the moon has a great benefit: even if we miss the target, we can still land between the stars.

Author Sabine Starr is a psychologist licensed in Vienna, Austria, currently living and working in Mission Hills. She has written numerous articles for professional psychology journals. For further information, visit and follow her blog at; and a new social media offering is

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