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How to Be Assertive: Assertiveness and Self-Image

How to Be Assertive Learning how to be assertive is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

One of the traits that will cost you your self-image is the lack of assertiveness.

Without assertiveness, people will step over and you’ll not get your needs met.

When you get stepped over and not get your needs met, your self-image and self-esteem will suffer a great deal.

After all, you’re allowing others to get away with what they should not have got away with. What does that say about your self-esteem?

It will contribute to a low self-esteem and it will even cause a low self-esteem.

The good news is that learning to be assertive will help you have a better self-image and a higher self-esteem.

Being assertive will make you respect yourself more. And consequently, it’ll make other people respect you as well.

Being assertive will help you enjoy better communications. It’ll save your self-esteem and increase it day by day.

Let’s break down this whole assertiveness thing to know what it means to be assertive and how to be assertive as well.

Assertive People and Unassertive People

Being assertive means having boundaries. It’s about drawing a line in the sand.

Then, it’s about not allowing people to violate these boundaries. It’s about not allowing people to cross the line that you’ve drawn in the sand.

So, assertiveness consists of 2 components: knowing your boundaries, and respecting those boundaries by not allowing other people to cross them.

The first obstacle people who lack assertiveness face is setting boundaries. Knowing where they begin and where the other person ends.

They don’t know that they have rights or needs. They don’t feel like they deserve to have rights or needs. Or, sadly, they sacrifice those rights and needs for the sake of approval and attention.

Or they feel that other people might get angry if they expressed their needs and rights. Like, they’ll be alone if people get angry at them.

As a result, they set no boundaries and they allow people to treat them however they want. They accept bad treatment. They accept the deprivation of their rights and needs.

All that for the sake of acceptance and not upsetting anyone around them. And they usually get that. But the price is their self-esteem and their respect and credibility.

Those are the needy people. The approval seekers. They sacrifice their own rights and needs in order to get accepted and/or to get something else.

On the other hand, people with clear boundaries are totally the opposite.

They know what they want. They’ve decided what kind of treatment they will accept and what kind of treatment they never tolerate. And they’re not afraid of standing up for themselves when they’re being mistreated.

They will never compromise. Unlike the unassertive people, their rights and needs are more important than any kind of approval or acceptance. Even if expressing their needs might rebel some people, they’re comfortable expressing their boundaries in a non-rude way, of course.

How to Be Assertive By Setting Strong Boundaries

2 steps:

1.Draw the line in the sand: know your boundaries

Setting boundaries might be difficult at the beginning. Especially if you’ve never had any boundaries before.

But once you do it, your self-respect will increase, your self-esteem, in general, will increase, and people will have more respect for you as a natural consequence.

First of all, setting boundaries isn’t about being defensive and on the watch. It’s about having enough self-respect to stand up for yourself.

Because you respect yourself, you stand up for your rights and your needs. And you need to be aware of these rights and needs and choose them carefully.

They should be making you happy and satisfied. They should be making you feel appreciated and respected. And they should not harm anybody else by depriving them of their rights and needs.

Anybody has unique needs and different views on what is their rights and what is not. However, there are specific items that should be on each list.

The list below will give you an idea of what the rights and the needs should look like. How is that line on the sand look like?

Here you go:

  • You have the right to be treated with respect. You define what respect means to you personally.
  • You have the right to be listened to and to be given attention. In other words, you have the right to ignore those who ignore you.
  • You have the right to say no. Sometimes without explaining yourself.
  • You have the right to be happy and mentally stable.
  • You have the right to walk away from anybody who makes you feel bad about yourself, manipulates you, takes advantages of you, consumes you, or hurts you in any way.
  • You have the right to cut off the negative and the toxic relationships in your life. Even if you were friends (or couples) for a long time; even if you are close family members.
  • You have the right to make mistakes and be imperfect.
  • You have the right to cut off those who always hurt you by their mistakes (and then claim that they are only humans!).
  • You have the right to stand up for yourself whenever you feel that any of your rights and/or needs are not being met.

Those are general guidelines that will help you become aware of your own rights and needs. Also, you can use them as your rights and needs.

Let’s move on now and see how you can communicate those needs effectively and assertively.

2.Guard your boundaries by expressing your needs effectively

It’s not enough to know your rights and needs. You need to learn how to express them effectively.

Effective communication can do miracles.

I know some people who know their rights and needs but they express them aggressively or passively. Thus, they end up having battles here and there, insulting a lot of people, feeling bad about being aggressive while also feeling bad about not getting their needs met.

You need to communicate your needs in a non-aggressive way and in a non-timid way. Something in the middle.

In the book Attached, it’s made clear by the writers that secure people express their needs effectively.

(Attached is a book that talks about attachment theory. It classifies people into 3 categories based on what they call their attachment system. This attachment system affects their romantic relationships. Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. As you read through the book, you’ll realize that each attachment system depends largely on the way the person sees himself and the world around him (a.k.a. his self-image).)

Not only it’s stressed many times through the book but also you can see it as a pattern when you read the accounts of the people who were interviewed by the researchers.

That’s extremely important in any relationship (including the one you have with your own self).

You need to be able to effectively communicate those needs to the people around you. And you expect people to firstly respect those needs and attain to them. And you hold yourself accountable to walk away from those who don’t respect your needs and/or can’t satisfy your needs.

(Note: your needs are valid as long as they don’t hurt other people. The minute your needs start hurting other people, you’re considered selfish and insecure. Only people with an inflated sense of ego think their needs are the most important needs out there.

Here are examples of needs being effectively communicated:

  • Telling a person, assertively, to stop treating you in a specific way.
  • Telling a person that a certain behavior that they do is hurting you in a way or another.
  • Telling someone that you like them.
  • Telling a close friend that you do need their support and encouragement when facing a major problem in your life.
  • Asking for what you want/need from someone directly and honestly. No hints! Just saying what you need.

Examples of needs being communicated ineffectively:

  • Suppressing your needs/desires and expecting people to know them and make them come true for you.
  • Being pissed off by the way someone treats you but not saying anything. Instead, treating them badly, without deserving to be treated badly, as a way to revenge. Being resentful and acting based on that.
  • Not telling someone that you like them and play games with them.
  • Giving hints and expecting people to understand you and give you what you need.

This might not be easy in the beginning. But once you get used to it, it’ll be very rewarding, for you and for those you’re dealing with.

Express yourself shamelessly

In her book The Gifts of Imperfections, Brene Brown talks about many topics related to shame, fear, and vulnerability. She mentions something very important about setting boundaries.

She says that you need to hold people accountable for their behavior in order to be able to be compassionate toward them. Also, she mentions in her TED talk that vulnerability is, as ugly and uncomfortable as it is, necessary.

Those two concepts will help you express yourself to others. Or, as Dr. Brown describes it, to let yourself be seen.

Vulnerability is a lot deeper and I can’t explain it fully, or, specifically, what I know about it, in this article. It’s paradoxical and counter-intuitive.

But put it simply, it’s every act that would put you on the line. Every time you get to stick your neck out. Every action that allows others to really see who you are. Every action that you take without knowing the outcome or without being in control.

It’s telling someone that you like them. It’s sharing something deep with a close friend. It’s taking the initiative to talk to a stranger and get to know them. It’s sitting with people that you don’t know and trying to get to know them better.

Vulnerability will allow you express yourself to those around you and connect with them on deeper levels.

In fact, some writers even consider setting boundaries a form of vulnerability.

People who don’t express themselves will be walked over. They’ll have relationships where they have to compromise and compromise. And sooner or later, they’ll become resentful and angry. Let alone that it, being walked over, will damage their self-esteem. No good relationships will ever come with this kind of attitude.

People who can’t be vulnerable, at least with specific people, will feel very lonely. People are attracted to each other’s rough edges; people don’t connect with robots. People want someone who is real and authentic enough in order to connect with.

Lack of vulnerability will project a false image of yourself to people, which will lead to the suppression of who you really are. And people will notice that you’re not being authentic and real about who you are and your desires.

And don’t get this wrong. Vulnerability isn’t about being needy or oversharing. It’s about being comfortable with the possibility of getting hurt. It’s about being real even if it’ll upset some people. It’s about enduring the discomfort instead of running away from it.

To me, this is not weakness. This is strength. This is courage.

And it is not going to be easy at all. Trust me. The more you’ve been suppressing your real self and maintaining weak, or no, boundaries, the harder it’s going to be to break free. But hell it’s worth it!

For more on this, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s work. She has amazing books:

  • The gifts of imperfection.
  • Daring greatly.
  • Mark Manson also has written about this matter in his book Models. It’s about dating and it’s mostly to men. However, if you think you can get a kick out of it, and if you’re a guy, it would be a great read as well.


To be assertive, you need to have boundaries and you need to guard those boundaries. You need to draw a line in the sand and make that clear to the people around you in an assertive, and non-aggressive way.

That said, you first need to become aware of your rights and needs. You must have certain rules and guidelines.

We discussed a few above. They are your rights and you have all the right to claim them.

After knowing your rights, you need to express that effectively to the people you interact with.

We also discussed a few methods to do that.

Adding those 2 points together and you will set strong boundaries and be more assertive. As a result, your self-respect will improve and so will your self-esteem and self-image.

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