The Connection Between Non-Assertiveness and Depression

Research has shown a relationship between non-assertiveness and depression. The studies indicated that people whocouple_talking_nicely are generally non-assertive are more likely to get depressed than others who are assertive. Assertiveness has been defined as behavior that enables people to act in their own best interests by expressing their thoughts and feelings directly and honestly.

Lets look at the definitions of non-assertiveness, assertiveness and aggressiveness. When we are non-assertive, we honor the other person’s rights, but don’t honor our own rights. When we’re aggressive, we honor our own rights, while trampling on the other person’s rights. When we’re assertive, we honor our own rights, while also honoring the other person’s rights.

In my counseling, I have seen many people who were experiencing depression that was either caused or worsened by an inability to be assertive. The client had allowed others to treat her badly, and was unable to stand up for herself. Over time, the pain and perceived helplessness of the situation led to clinical depression. Like the old idea of Chinese water torture, the drip, drip, drip of being mistreated, without self-defense took it toll.

There are many reasons that people have difficulty being assertive. We will look at several of them here.

1. There is a fear that the other person will get angry. In most cases, this isn’t a fear of physical violence, but rather, a fear of the anger itself. The non-assertive person may have experienced intense or inappropriate anger from a parental figure during childhood. The child associated danger with the anger. That association is maintained in the adult. Even though the victim will readily admit that they are not afraid of violence from the other person, they experience fear and anxiety, as if violence was a risk.

2. The non-assertive person fears disapproval from the other person. In this case, the focus is on the risk of disappointing the other person. No action is necessary. Just a disappointing look, or an anticipated loss of respect can keep the victim silent.

3. Sometimes the non-assertive person has a fear of “being mean.” This individual fears hurting the other person or inconveniencing them. These are the classic “people pleasers.” They work very hard to be nice, even if it means sacrificing their own needs.

4. The person’s self-esteem may be so low, that he feels he has no right to be assertive. He upholds others rights to defend their needs, but doesn’t feel he has the same rights.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of causes, and you may relate somewhat to them all. Changing from non-assertive behaviors to assertive behaviors can be difficult. It begins with small things. State your opinion in areas where you anticipate less resistance. At first, be assertive with people you feel will be more receptive. Practice the behavior.

You will be uncomfortable at first. You will feel anxiety and may be uncertain about whether you have the right to be assertive in a particular situation. Try this little mind experiment. Imagine a friend or loved one in the exact same situation as you are experiencing. Put them in your shoes. Would they have a right to be assertive if they were in this situation? Would you want them to stand up for themselves? If so, then you should be assertive as well. Practice the behavior you would want your friend to exhibit.

So, what if you are assertive and the other person resists, argues with or ignores your requests? You will have to be “persistently assertive,” meaning that you maintain you position, stating your disagreement calmly but confidently.

Also, don’t be surprised if the other person accuses you of being selfish or mean. When others are accustomed to you being non-assertive, going along, and never disagreeing, they will perceive you as mean or overly negative when you stand your ground. You may just have to push through this hurdle. Over time, they will get used to your assertive moments and actually see it as within your rights.

Learning to be assertive is a gradual process. You begin with the realization that you have the right to be assertive. Then you practice the behavior in less intimidating situations. Gradually, you state your mind in more difficult circumstances. Eventually, you will be able to be assertive without even realizing it.


Question: What other reasons come to mind for non-assertive behaviors? Share them here.

Seven Ways Your Self-Critical Brain is like a Terrorist

All too often, I have seen the damage done by self-criticism. I have shared the message that self-esteem wounds andterrorist self-critical thoughts are learned, but not accurate. I have pointed out the fact that such thinking is destructive and dangerous.

I thought that this comparison might get the message across. Here are seven ways that your self-critical brain is like a terrorist.


  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist began as innocents without hate.

You weren’t born self-critical. You were born innocent and precious just any other baby. You had no positive or negative self-esteem. Likewise, the terrorist was not born hating others. He was like any other innocent baby. You weren’t born hating or criticizing yourself either.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist were given the wrong messages.

The terrorist was taught to hate. The terrorist was taught that certain others were the enemy. The negative messages you received, early in your childhood, taught you to dislike yourself. The messages taught you that you were the enemy and you’ve treated yourself that way ever since. Those messages were destructive lies. The terrorist’s messages were as well.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist were restricted from hearing the right messages.

The terrorist was surrounded by people who preached a message of hate. In childhood, most terrorists were not exposed to outside influences. He didn’t have the opportunity to see that other groups were made up of humans much like him. Later in life, he may have been exposed to people outside his group, but he looked at them with distrust. His attention focused on the negative characteristics of the “others.” His skewed perceptions only strengthened his belief that the “others” were the enemy and should be hurt or eliminated.

Likewise, your self-critical brain restricts you from hearing right messages. You pay attention to the times when you are criticized or when you fail. Your brain discounts your successes as luck, or as unimportant. You imagine others are criticizing you, even when they aren’t thinking of you at all. As a result, you are impacted by the negative messages and are restricted from positive experiences.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist simply absorbed what was given.

A sponge will soak up whatever it is exposed to. If it is placed in pure, clean water, it will soak it up. If it is exposed to acid, it will soak that up as easily. The sponge doesn’t differentiate. Children are the same. If a child is exposed to messages of hate and terror, they will soak that up. If they are exposed to messages of criticism and inadequacy, they will absorb that as well.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist consistently act on their beliefs.

A terrorist seems to be consistent. His choices, thoughts and emotions are guided by his learned beliefs of hate. He may not be doing anything destructive right now, but he is simply waiting on the opportunity. Your self-critical brain is also consistent. Your choices, thoughts and emotions are dictated by your self-esteem wounds. A little self-examination will reveal that your self-critical perceptions infiltrate every aspect of your life.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist will hurt (or kill) you.

The terrorist is dangerous. His purpose is to hurt and kill those outside his group. He rejoices in the terrorist act, because that is his mission. Your self-critical brain will also hurt you. Each self-critical thought chips away at your sense of worth or competency. Your self-critical brain can also kill you. Most suicide victims believed the world would be better off without them. They mistakenly believed that they were a problem to the ones they loved. They then acted to eliminate the problem.

  1. Your self-critical brain and the terrorist can change.

There are a few examples of terrorists who changed their beliefs of hate. Somehow, they were able to see that those outside their group were humans just like them. They abandoned their terrorist mission. Your self-critical brain can change as well. Like the terrorist, you will have to be exposed to competing messages. You will have to see strong evidence that your self-critical beliefs were destructive and wrong. You will have to be deliberate at changing these beliefs. It will take time, but it can happen. Begin today.

You can master the tools to change your self-critical beliefs and thoughts in my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart: Overcoming the Wounds to Your Self-Esteem and Transforming Your Perception of You.” You can find it at



Question: Can you see other similarities between the self-critical brain and a terrorist? Do you have any other comparisons? If so, please share.

Accepting the Gift of Forgiveness

Today we celebrate Easter. Christians around the world celebrate the fact that Jesus conquered death and the cross.man_praising_God We remember the gift, the sacrifice and a renewed relationship with our Creator. On this day, we are again reminded that we can be forgiven of our many mistakes, failings and faults. Because He paid our debt, we can be free of guilt and shame. It’s a gift; ours for the taking…  But, do we take it?

Over my thirty-two years of doing counseling, I have seen so many people who are weighed down by the burden of their past mistakes and failings. I have listened as they listed their bad choices, actions and outcomes. They didn’t have to recall them, because they were ever present in their minds. They never forgot them.

I have listened as they assumed the role of prosecutor, jury and judge, while laying out the evidence of their inadequacy and unworthiness. They presented their case, passed their verdict and handed down their sentence.

Unfortunately, the sentence was always life. It was a lifetime of shame, self-criticism, and sadness. There didn’t seem to be any parole or pardon. There was no hope of future freedom. The cell door was welded shut. There was no key.

Interestingly, most of these people were Christians, and fully believed in God’s forgiveness. They easily accepted the fact that any sin can be forgiven and forgotten, making the sinner clean, pure and free. They accepted this fact for everyone else, but not for themselves. Against all logic, they felt that they were somehow different. The couldn’t apply the truth to themselves.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, there was a religious group called the flagellants. They believe they must continually offer penance for their sins, and thus walked around whipping themselves on the back. The whips were often laced with sharp objects to increase the damage. Their bleeding and their scars served as a testimony to their inadequacy and shame.

Do you recite your list of mistakes in your mind? Have you sentenced yourself to a life sentence of self-criticism, self-blame and shame? Do you keep your self-esteem wounds open by continually picking at them or examining them?

Wouldn’t today be a great day to stop? Of course, you can’t stop such a habit in one day, but you can begin the journey. If you believe that Easter means that forgiveness is available, then today would be a good day to accept it, and begin the process of forgiving yourself.

To do this, you will have to remind yourself daily that your self-blame is unnecessary. You will have to apply the same rules of forgiveness to yourself that you have previously applied to others. You will have to catch yourself each time that you whip yourself with self-criticism; each time you re-live your past failings. You will have to be persistent. It will be worth it. Today, accept the gift of Easter!


Question: What steps have you taken to let go of your past, and forgive yourself? Your ideas might help someone else.