In a recent article, we reviewed the importance of assertiveness in the age of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Behaving and communicating assertively can be challenging. Today, much of the world is facing a pandemic and an economic crisis that leaves many feeling helpless. In the face of these uncertain times, it can be very challenging to advocate for ourselves. For example, we may not speak up about unfair treatment at work if we believe speaking up for ourselves could cost us our job, and subsequently, our health insurance.
Previously, we defined assertiveness as behaving and communicating in a manner that equally values our own rights and needs and the rights and needs of others. This is in contrast to passiveness, which values the rights and needs of others above our own, whereas aggressiveness values our rights and needs above those of others.
Why is assertiveness important?
Behaving or communicating passively can lead us to censor ourselves and not give our true opinion. In the face of our current crises, this can lead us to withhold valuable information that could help prevent problems and potentially save lives. For example, if we know someone is disregarding recommendations by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and potentially spreading COVID-19, failing to speak up could put ourselves and others in danger.
Aggressive communication or behavior has its own downsides. Behaving or communicating aggressively damages relationships in a time when the support of others is critical. If you think your neighbor will answer a knock on their door and lend you a roll of toilet paper after you were aggressive, think again!
What stops us from being assertive?
According to the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CIC), there are common factors that can keep us from being assertive. One factor could be our own self-defeating beliefs. For example, we might believe that it is rude or hostile to advocate for ourselves. We might believe that if we assert ourselves it will ruin a close relationship or we will be humiliated in front of others.
The CIC also lists skill deficits as a factor that prevents us from being assertive. For many of us, we would like to behave and communicate assertively, but we don’t know how.
Anxiety is another factor listed by the CIC. Often times, we plan to practice assertiveness. However, when the time comes we experience so much anxiety that it becomes hard to think clearly and follow though with our plan.
Culture is another important factor that might prevent us from asserting ourselves. Assertiveness is often valued in many individualistic cultures. However, the sentiment is not always shared by collectivistic cultures. Those of us raised in collectivistic cultures are often taught to show deference to and follow the guidance of authority figures. This can make assertiveness a challenge. Furthermore, it might mean that in order to honor our collectivistic culture we must pick and choose when to practice assertiveness and when to put it to the side.
We have discussed the importance of assertiveness and what stops us from practicing it. The next step is to start learning how to practice it. In future articles, we discuss an examples of how CBT can help us to practice assertiveness during the age of COVID-19.
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.