Assertiveness Training

TherapyDocs with any training or experience prescribe assertiveness to beat social anxiety and depression-- they're related, you know. I've been using the same example to help patients understand what it's all about in simple language for about 25 years.

So here you go.

This is not to say that people can just snap to it and do it, like the Nike people say. It is harder than it looks, and yet, easier than it sounds.

Here's the Therapy Doc primo example. Few of my patients have escaped therapy without hearing it at some point or another.

You're standing in line at the movies. Or at the grocery store.

You're in line, just waiting, wondering when you'll get to the ticket agent, talking to your friend. You notice that someone has just budged.

Budged means, in case you aren't familiar with the vernacular, someone stepped in front of you without permission.

Now there are three choices in this case:

1) you say nothing, the passive choice.
This one is likely to make you feel angry or powerless. Maybe you really don't care, but NOTHING will change in your favor here. If the person who cut in line in front of you gets the last ticket in the theater, you're just plain out of luck.

2) you say something assertive.
ASSERTIVE MEANS JUST THE FACTS. You gently tap that person on the shoulder, point to the back of the line and say, "Excuse me, sir, you must not have noticed, but the back of the line is OVER THERE."

You say this in a calm, rational, factual voice. NO EMOTION. NO EMOTING OR ACTING deserving or snide or angry. NADA SIGN THAT YOU'RE UPSET. This is just the facts, and the facts speak for themselves. Most people move to the back of the line. You have just been pro-active and impressed your date (or yourself) and certainly, me.

3) you can be aggressive.
"Hey, (expletive)," you say. "What the (expletive) do you think you're doing, you (expletive-ing) (expletive)," and shake him by the shoulders.

The preferred choice is choice number 2, the assertive approach.

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. If the person who cut in front of you is very tough-looking and seems likely to kill you or beat you, then use your own discretion. Perhaps go the passive route.

The slightest snear from the aggressor and you might consider saying, "Oh, never mind, it's cool." DO NOT GET INTO "discussions" WITH PEOPLE WHO SEEM TO HAVE VIOLENT INCLINATIONS. Again, use your best judgement.

One thing about asserting, if you assert with a more assertive or aggressive person, you'll lose if you're not into conflict. It's okay to lose. Most of the time, however, if you're assertive and not aggressive you'll get what you want. That's winning. I know it's an incredible concept. I know.

Why try it and risk conflict? Like I said, most of the time there won't be any. You have to try this to believe it, but it's true.

Why even bother to try it? It's so scary? I'm sort of shy?

Well, we know that by asking for what we need we are more likely to get it than if we wait around for people to read our minds or Divine Intervention. People who don't ask, who would rather not make waves, are called "passive."

And passivity is associated with depression because if you don't get what you need, you feel unhappy, unfulfilled. Therapists push assertiveness. I practice with clients, script out things like that to help you get better and better at it. Filled is better than unfulfilled any day. Go for filled.

Copyright 2006, (TherapyDoc)


Jennifer said…
I like this blog. Like the Assertiveness Training. I need it and I'm an art therapist by trainng at least. I acted before I read it and I did #2 (the choice that is) so I guess it's in there somewhere, but I still feel pretty vulnerable inside. We'll see what comes of it.

Thanks for this very insightful blog.
Steve said…
I have just begun to understand how assertiveness will help, or even cure, my depression.

For years I felt sad, and lethargic, then I learned this is called depression. Then a teacher mentioned that depression is "anger turned inward". When I looked what I was angry about, I noticed that I felt that people were always treating me like shit. But when I described what other people did that made me feel mistreated, no one understood. Then I learned about this thing called your 'emotional space', that when people step in there without your permission, you get pissed, and this is normal. Then I read a book called "Highly Sensitive People" and realized my emotional space was wider than most, so most people didn't recognize they were offending me. Now I'm learning how to control my own emotional space with assertiveness (not control other poeple) and am slowly building confidence.
Anonymous said…
Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson
Unknown said…
Hi there,

I'm a 2nd year OT student and I have found this posting very interesting, entertaining and a little bit humorous at the same time! I have recently just learnt about assertiveness in one of my classes. It would be great to get a mental health placement and be able to put this into practice! Thanks for the insightful post :)


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