Standing Up for Yourself

Stop!If you experienced events during childhood that wounded your self-esteem, you may have difficulty being assertive about your wants or needs. You may doubt your opinions or choices or you may be afraid of displeasing others. You may know what you want but have difficulty being assertive about it. Proper assertiveness involves expressing your wants or needs in a balanced way.

Consider the following scale:


Non-assertive                                  Assertive                                    Aggressive

If you are non-assertive, you honor the other person’s rights but don’t honor your own rights. You comply with other’s wishes and fail to express your own. If you are aggressive, you honor and defend your own rights, but do so in a manner that does not honor the other person’s rights. You demand your way, while not considering the other person’s needs or desires. If you are assertive, you honor and express your own desires and needs in a manner that also honors the rights of the other person.

Those with a wound of the heart tend to have difficulties with assertiveness. They often fluctuate between being non-assertive or aggressive. Most of the time, those with low self-esteem are non-assertive and they honor the needs of others but don’t honor their own needs.

Over time, they build up resentment that their needs are never met, and when that build-up reaches a certain level, they explode and express their needs in an aggressive way. Then there is a type of rebound reaction. They feel guilty for the aggression and go back to being non-assertive. They continue being non-assertive until the emotions once again build up, and they explode in an aggressive manner once again. As you can see, they skip assertiveness altogether. Being properly assertive allows you to avoid the difficulties inherent in non-assertiveness and aggression.

One way to determine whether a response is assertive is to imagine that your best friend gave that response under the exact circumstances you are experiencing. How would you feel about your friend’s response? Would you feel that the response was appropriate? Would you feel that it was too aggressive? Would it simply be assertive? You would probably want your friend to give an assertive response and think that she had a right to do so.

When you are assertive about your needs, you show a respect for yourself. Practicing assertiveness can go a long way toward improving your self-esteem. From: “Parables for a Wounded Heart: Overcoming the Wounds to Your Self-Esteem and Transforming Your Perception of You” (2012)

Question: What do you think about  the relationship between self-esteem and assertiveness? Have you seen examples of self-esteem being lowered by non-assertive behaviors or raised by assertive behaviors?

I'm a psychologist, who helps people who have sustained self-esteem wounds from past negative experiences, overcome those wounds and experience a more positive self-worth, so they can live more joyful and satisfying lives.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Standing Up for Yourself

  1. This whole issue is more of a problem than people realize. This posting went straight to my heart. Thank you for such timely insight.

  2. I believe when you have a wounded heart from a past of abuse, you can become either of two types of people: non-assertive or aggressive and I believe what type you become often determines your level of self-esteem (or at least the perception you give to others). One who has been abused may become the controlled (non-assertive) with little self-esteem and another may become a controller (aggressive) with a huge self-esteem. Often, one who has had someone blur their “boundaries” doesn’t know how to stand up for themselves…they feel they do not have the right to because others “took” those rights from them. However, one who may have had someone take control over them will decide that will never happen again so they become aggresive. Because of my past, I became non-assertive to the point that my husband said I would keep from hurting others (people-pleasing) at the expense of deeply hurting myself. God is healing my heart, and I am learning to set healthy boundaries in my life. Your book was one of the first I read on this subject once God dealt with my spiritual heart, and your book answered lots of questions I had about my personality. Thank you for taking time to write a book that deals with wounds of the heart and what they do to us–how those wounds can cause us to have wrong perceptions of ourselves!! I am having to work through lots of damaged thought processes in regards to myself and let God re-define those for me through His Word.

    • Elizabeth:
      Thank you for your comments. It is true that people will often react in opposite ways to such experiences. Some children, who are told they will never amount to anything, accept the lie and settle for much less than their potential, while others will work themselves to death to prove they can succeed. Some abuse victims will grow up to be abusers, while others will do anything to prevent abuse. I’m not sure what determines the direction an individual will take. Thank you also for your comments about the helpfulness of the book. I’m always encouraged to hear that the book has made a difference!

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