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How Being Assertive and Having a Positive and Healthy Self-image are Linked


  Written by Riley Mitchell

We’re going to walk through a bit of a chicken-or-egg scenario. The chicken being assertiveness, the egg; self-image.

Self-image is the way that we view ourselves, which may or may not be the same as how we’re seen by others. It might include the way we think we look, how we think we come across in social situations and how much status we believe we hold in society.



Then there’s self-esteem, which is how we feel about ourselves; be that positive or negative. Subtly different, yet undoubtedly intertwined.

We can all be prone to bouts of self-criticism from time to time, just as we can be critical of others. And self-reflection is a valuable tool in helping us navigate the tricky dynamics of relationships. Sometimes, though, self-deprecation can fester - spiralling out of control until it turns into a prolonged issue of low self-esteem. At this point it can really start to hinder our relationships and the opportunities we receive, because the way that we feel about ourselves has a tendency to impact our actions and abilities, day-to-day.

Having a healthy self-image is, without a doubt, linked with higher levels of assertiveness. Whilst tipping the scale a little too much off-centre can open us up to passive or aggressive tendencies. Neither of which are desirable from an outside perspective. So in order to unpick the link further, let’s first take a look at how behaving passively can lead us down the path to low self-esteem and, by reverse, how assertive behaviors foster a more positive self-image.

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The influence of passive behavior on self-esteem

Passive behavior can be characterized as a quietness - a failure to advocate for ourselves and our belief systems. Everyday examples of passiveness might be failing to ask for a well-deserved pay rise, allowing a partner to take advantage of us and -- this is a common one - saying ‘Yes’ to absolutely everything, regardless of whether or not we actually want to do it. How many of us have signed up for things that we’d rather not do, or taken on tasks that we don’t feel we’re capable of juggling, just so as not to put anyone’s nose out of joint?

We’re going to take a look at the most common traits of passive behavior and demonstrate the knock-on effect that these have on self-image:

●      We’re afraid to speak up - the knock-on effect: others don’t feel that we’ve anything valuable to contribute - and we feel unheard and undervalued.

●      We go along with others’ opinions despite whether they contradict with our own - others feel that we’re indecisive and incompetent - and we feel we have no value to add by voicing our own opinions.

●      We value the feelings of others’ more than we value our own - other people see us as a pushover - we feel unworthy and begin to feel resentful.

●      We fail to reach, or set, goals - we appear unmotivated and incapable - we feel so demotivated that we begin to doubt what our ultimate motivations are.

Broken down like this, it’s easy to see how passive behavior can rapidly become a slippery slope to lost confidence. And it’s also easy to see how much of a challenge this mindset presents, in terms of affecting positive change on a situation. Once we’re at the point of believing that we’ve little to bring to the table, or that we’re totally lost in terms of our long-term goals, we’re so lacking in self-esteem that we’re almost incapable of pulling ourselves out of the hole. Almost, but certainly not irrectifiably . Let’s now do the same thing for assertiveness.

The impact of assertive behavior on self-image

Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons characterize assertiveness as an ability to “act in our own best interests, to stand up for ourselves without undue anxiety, to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others, and to express our feelings honestly and comfortably” [1].

What this might look like in everyday context -- and the associated effect on our self-esteem -- is as follows:

●      We express ourselves with confidence and respectfully acknowledge the opinions of others - our confidence is interpreted positively and we make others feel respected - we feel worthy of the viewpoints we hold.

●      We are excellent listeners - others feel heard and become more receptive to our opinions by way of return - we are able to build strong relationships and we feel appreciated.

●      We place as much value on others as we do ourselves - mutual respect is established - we feel valued and respected.

●      We set realistic goals and have clear direction - we’re seen to be driven and capable - we feel motivated and we’re more likely to stick to our goals.

Not only does acting assertively develop mutual respect, this positive reinforcement breeds self-confidence and improves our chances of fulfilling our goals. When we’re setting and hitting our own personal targets and seeing our relationships thrive along with it, we are nurturing a healthy self-image.

It’s a fine balancing act though. When self-esteem is at a healthy level we feel valuable to society, worthy of the respect of others and, so, confident and assertive. Not enough self-esteem, as we’ve seen, tends to turn us inward; meaning we struggle to find our voice, feel undervalued and lack in self-belief/confidence -- here we start to demonstrate passive behaviors.

At the other end of the scale, having self-esteem that’s a little too high can lead to feelings of superiority and an over-confidence which renders us neglectful of the feelings of others. Here’s where there might be a tendency towards traits of aggression. So finding equilibrium is really important.

Is there evidence that higher assertiveness leads to positive self-image?

There have been numerous studies into the link between assertiveness and self-image. Ibrahim, S.A. (2011) found that nursing students with a greater level of assertiveness scored higher on measures of “psychological empowerment” -- which included competence, sense of meaning, self determination and impact. And similar research on new mothers suggested that higher levels of assertiveness reduced the risk of developing postpartum depression (Skowron et al. 2014) [2].



The jury’s out on whether positive self-image is shaped by, or shapes, assertiveness. In fact, more than likely both have an equal bearing on each other, and without one it’s very difficult to have the other. One thing that seems certain is that committing to developing assertiveness will, naturally, give our self-esteem the boost it needs to perpetuate further assertive behaviour. So the “Which came first?” question remains unanswered. Instead, think of it as an ouroboros -- an endless loop of one feeding into the other.

Want to Be More Assertive?

We have online courses with full 12-months' access.
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Sources:

[1] https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/silent-epidemic-lack-of-assertiveness-low-self-esteem-1103165

[2] https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/assertiveness/

[general ref] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/self-confidence-assertiveness-adam-kharchoufa/

[general ref] http://counsellingservice.eu/tell-the-difference-between-assertive-passive-and-aggressive-behaviour
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