Anger Styles: Healthy Assertive Behavior


By: Dr. John Rifkin

Assertive behavior is the use of anger to take care of yourself interpersonally. It's the part of the anger spectrum that is used most frequently. As a style, it is the healthiest. While there are appropriate times to be aggressive and to be passive-aggressive, in the normal course of social interaction, assertive behavior will usually serve best. There are three parts to being assertive. The first is that assertive behavior requires that you know what you are feeling. If you are not in touch with what you feel, it becomes very difficult to try and meet your needs. An example of this would be that if you don't know you are hungry, you won't seek food. While being in touch with feelings may seem simple, and is basic, many people have been trained by their family of origin to ignore their own emotions.

The second part of being assertive is to know that your feelings are ok by definition. That means that you don't have to defend what you feel, to yourself, or anyone else. You do have to accept them. Once you accept your emotions, you can figure out what you want to do about them.

The final piece in assertive behavior is to know that you have a right to express you feelings. That is different than having to express your emotions. Once you know that you have a right to make your feelings heard, you still have to decide when and where it takes care of you to express them. Some people aren't likely to honor the emotions that you might share with them. These people do not deserve to know what you are feeling, since that is intimate emotional information. We only share these feelings when we believe that there is a likelihood of having them accepted and taken into account.

If you have an assertive anger style, you may be wondering when it is appropriate to be aggressive and/or passive-aggressive. Aggressive behavior is appropriate in competitive sporting contexts, or when you are facing a situation where it is required to defend yourself or one of your loved ones in the face of some physical threat. Generally speaking, it's not appropriate to initiate threatening someone else. Passive-aggressive behavior is appropriate in getting rid of unwanted attention, positive or negative. Ignoring someone who is attempting to get your attention. It is also appropriate to use in specific ways when you are working for a problematic boss. You may choose to not respond to a boss who's behaving inappropriately. This way you get to avoid a confrontation that could threaten your livelihood, while maintaining your integrity.

It's great to have an assertive anger style. Remember you have a full spectrum of responses available to you.

Dr. John Rifkin is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the Boulder-Denver area. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and marital relationship counseling. He is also the author of The Healing Power of Anger. To learn more about John and his services, visit his website at http://www.emotionalsuccess.com/.

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