assertive vs. aggressive

One of the things most food addicts struggle with, is low self-esteem, and because deep down they feel they are not worthy, they find it hard to stand up for themselves and be assertive.

And so they allow people to hurt them, anger them, humiliate them.

Because of this, a vicious cycle develops: you get bashed, don’t stand up for yourself, and end up feeling worse because people keep trampling on you, further compounding the thought that you are unworthy.

The first step to conquering this, is to understand the difference between assertiveness and aggression, but before we go on, here’s a quick test to find out whether you’re assertive or not:

What is assertiveness?

It is interesting that only assertive people realise when others are being assertive. The rest…well, most people make the mistake of equating assertiveness with aggression.

Let me give you an example:

A fellow food addict on a Facebook group shared this (it’s been edited for the sake of protecting her privacy):

“I have a rude, intrusive coworker who annoys me. I’ve been off sick and I am returning to work today. I don’t feel like going back because of her and my boss, who also always makes comments to me. I like to blend into the background especially when I’m sick. So when I go back, I won’t make an effort with my appearance, so that they will just leave me alone. It pisses me off and I turn to food. I don’t want to argue with people at all.”

I responded with this:

“It sounds as if you need to grow a pair of balls 🙂 That sounds bad, but really, when you allow people to affect you like this, it’s time to learn how to be assertive.”

Well. Needless to say, there were quite a few people whose feathers got ruffled and I got accused of not having a heart and being a bully. I suppose I should have candy coated it a bit better…

To someone who got angry with me and accused me of not having a heart, I responded to like this:

Learning to say “no”, and learning to put boundaries in place is never easy, especially when it’s been a lifelong habit to give in and allow others to affect you. Those with food addiction usually struggle tremendously in this area. Of course it’s all easier said than done…but it’s the truth and has nothing to do with how big my heart is…

Nowhere in any of my responses is there ugliness. It may not be candy coated, but it’s not ugly. However, many people saw it as being ugly because I was not fawning all over the person who shared her sorrow about her work situation.

The point is that those who agreed with me, are those who have learned how to be assertive and put boundaries into place and those those who got upset, are those who don’t practice assertiveness themselves.

So they don’t recognise it for what it is and take it as aggression.   

Mindtools describes the difference between assertiveness and aggression like this:

Assertiveness is based on balance. It requires being forthright about your wants and needs, while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. When you’re assertive, you are self assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly, fairly and with empathy.

Aggressive behavior is based on winning. You do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings, or desires of other people. When you’re aggressive, the power you use is selfish. You may come across as pushy or even bullying. You take what you want, often without asking.

Examples of assertiveness

  • When my date has acted rudely at a barbecue, I don’t hesitate to let them know I don’t like it.
  • After a stunning meal at a restaurant, I enjoy complimenting the chef or owner.
  • When my friend used my car and didn’t refill the tank, I let them know how unfair I think that is

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