People who struggle with assertiveness have a difficult time speaking up for themselves and advocating for their wants and needs. This can play out across a variety of settings, and often involves a lack of confidence. When someone doesn’t speak up for themselves, it can result in a negative mood or even a mental health condition.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness describes the behaviors of advocating for the self, recognizing and enforcing personal boundaries, and compassionately and appropriately redirecting others. Being assertive isn’t the same thing as being bossy or selfish – asserting oneself is a healthy social behavior that can lead to increased confidence, self-esteem, and connection.

People who have issues with assertiveness may find themselves feeling overwhelmed with social situations. This could be in the workplace, at home, with friends or family members, or even when ordering a cup of coffee. They may feel like others take advantage of them or don’t value their personal needs and their comfort. They might also become angry or frustrated with themselves for not speaking up, despite the fear of being judged.

When someone speaks up for what they want or diffuses an awkward situation without compromising their needs, they’re practicing assertiveness. You can imagine the difference in emotions that come from being assertive!

Origin of issues with assertiveness

There are many reasons why some people have issues with assertiveness. Often, being passive or passive aggressive is a behavior learned through experience. Some people who have issues with assertiveness grew up in households where one or more caregivers had a hard time advocating for themselves. Other people grew up in households where their caregivers didn’t let them be assertive or where they were punished for expressing their needs.

People who have experienced trauma or who have gone through toxic relationships may develop issues with assertiveness. Many people slowly and unconsciously develop an issue with assertiveness, and it isn’t until they develop mental health issues that they realize that they haven’t prioritized themselves when around others.

Symptoms of issues with assertiveness

When someone has issues with assertiveness, it can look many different ways. Here are a few examples of when there may be an issue with assertiveness:

  • Feeling self-conscious when talking with others, especially when answering questions or giving directions
  • Feeling overwhelmed with anxiety when speaking with your boss or other authority figures
  • Never asking for a raise at work, even when you deserve one
  • Staying in an unhealthy relationship because you’re afraid to break up with your partner
  • Not having enough money because you’ve given it to people who ask to borrow money from you but don’t pay you back
  • Feeling like you act like a different person around other people because you’re worried they won’t like you if you act authentic
  • Not getting what you want because you weren’t able to communicate your desires

After prolonged experiences having difficulty asserting yourself, you might find yourself suffering from anxiety, depression, feelings of disconnection from others, emotional fatigue, or deep-seated unhappiness. With the right help, you can reverse the effects and take control over your life.

Therapy for assertiveness

Many therapists specialize in helping clients with assertiveness. Often called “Assertiveness Training” or “Assertiveness Therapy,” therapists teach clients the importance of standing up for oneself and setting boundaries on other people. At first, therapists might ask clients to start noticing instances where they want to say something, but for whatever reason hold themselves back. Therapists may also encourage clients to explore how their confidence or self-esteem changes in different settings. Eventually, clients will practice being assertive in their daily lives and share back with their therapist how it went.

After being in therapy, clients who previously had issues with assertiveness find that they can handle uncomfortable situations without giving themselves up. They may also feel an increase in confidence and that they’re living much more comfortably and authentically.