Are You a Doormat? Can Assertiveness Help Improve Your Relationships?

What if your assistant coach bailed on you for the fourth week in a row leaving you alone to handle 35 middle school children playing soccer? Even though he has great coaching skills they’re of no use to you if he’s not there. You know you need to talk to him about his commitment but you keep putting it off.

Or, imagine if one of your friends asked you to help her with her garage sale on one of your busiest weekends. Just days before her call, you told her that you were going to be running all over town helping your daughter prepare for her prom. As usual, your friend wasn’t listening. Instead of telling her that you were unable to help, you ignore her calls and texts for fear that she’ll be disappointed in you or maybe even angry.

If either of these situations happened to you, how would you respond? Maybe you’d say, I don’t like conflict. If this was your answer, you are not alone. Many people confuse being assertive with being aggressive.  This misinterpretation may be holding you back from taking appropriate action in your relationships.

Relationships involve an ongoing series of checks and balances. When you’re assertive, you’re able to articulate your wants and needs in a clear, direct and honest way. You’re standing up for yourself and speaking your mind calmly and respectfully. When you communicate and interact with others, assertiveness is the sweet spot between passivity and aggression.

Assertiveness also has a stake in the workplace. For example, you may be upset over an unfair performance review. Rather than being passive, holding in your feelings and becoming resentful, or being aggressive by addressing your boss in an unprofessional way, you can deal with the issue by being assertive.  Calmly make a list of the areas in which you feel your boss overlooked your contributions. Then make an appointment to discuss these with him. Your reason for the meeting is to get your boss to change his opinion of you but to do it in a professional way.

Can you think of some other situations assertiveness would help? How about these?

  • When the dishwasher repair person turns up late for the third time
  • When your employee repeatedly makes the same mistake
  • When your boss always asks you, and not your colleagues, to work late
  • When your husband assumes you’re the one to clean up after dinner
  • When your friends order a lot of drinks and never offer to pay for them even though they know you don’t drink
  • When your partner makes an embarrassing scene on the golf course and throws his club because he hit a bad shot
  • When you’re pressured by friends in your group to make a donation to a cause you don’t believe in

I’m sure you could think of many more examples but let’s first figure out why you aren’t assertive in your life.

Reasons People Are Not Assertive

Let’s review a few of the reasons you may not be practicing assertiveness in your daily life. Perhaps you have a…

  • Fear of conflict, criticism or rejection and see every difference of opinion as a potential conflict situation.
  • Fear of damaging relationships and are afraid to say no because you always want people to like you or be happy with you.
  • Feeling of low self-esteem and inadequacy as if you don’t have the right to say what you want.

Why Be Assertive?

Before we address the benefits of being assertive, let’s understand why not being assertive can be a problem. When you are passive, the message you’re sending is that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as those of other people. In essence, you give others permission to disregard your wants and needs and violate your boundaries.

Learning to be assertive is a very valuable tool in terms of setting healthy boundaries and having healthy relationships. It shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for your interests, and people will not treat you like a doormat. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the rights of others and may be willing to compromise in order to resolve differences of opinion. You’ll also be able to control stress and anger, improve coping skills, and boost your self-esteem.

Let’s go back to our garage example mentioned earlier in this post. Instead of ignoring her request to help out with the garage sale, the best response would have been to say she that you were very busy preparing your daughter for her prom but would be happy to assist her in some other way. You could also add that you were hurt when she asked you to help because she did not take your busy schedule into consideration despite the conversations you had days prior.

How to Be Assertive

Although there are many benefits to being assertive, for some people it can be remarkably difficult. So how can you make it easier to be assertive?

You can overcome the fears holding you back from being assertive by answering the questions below:

  • What’s the situation?
  • How do I feel?
  • What do I think?
  • What do I want?

After answering these questions (and nailing down the thoughts is the hardest part!) consider the following tips:

  • Recognize that your personal boundaries are being violated and that it is not okay. You are worthy of respect.
  • Give yourself permission to say “no.”
  •  If you don’t have to respond immediately, rehearse what you want to say. Say it out loud, write it down, and consider role-playing with someone else for practice and feedback.
  • Act confident. Keep an upright posture and make eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Avoid using dramatic gestures.
  • Try not to be overly emotional. When we don’t know how to respond, we may end up feeling angry, frustrated, upset, or annoyed, but these negative feelings can get in the way. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, work on getting to a calm state. Breathe slowly and clear your mind. Focus on what you’re thinking and what you would like to see happen.

Learning to be assertive takes time and practice, especially if you’ve spent most of your life making other people’s needs and wants more important than your own.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store can be a test of being assertive. Let’s take Tim for example. Tim was faced with a situation where he had to choose to be assertive, rather than aggressive. While standing in line at the grocery store, a woman ignorantly cut in front of him with a cart overflowing with groceries. Tim was next in line and looking forward to getting out quickly with just a couple of items. Feeling angry and annoyed, he turned his focus away from his emotions and took some deep breaths. This allowed him to say quietly and respectfully, excuse me I was in line before you.  Could you do that?

If you’re not sure if you need help being assertive, try keeping track of how many times a week you say yes when you don’t want to, or just go ahead and do something because you are afraid that expressing your need will cause a fight.

If you feel that you need help to become more assertive, please feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.


Being Assertive: Reduce Stress, Communicate Better – Mayo Clinic

Passive Aggressive Diaries

Quit Being a Pushover: How to Be Assertive 

5 Tips to Increase Your Assertiveness