Self-worth, dignity, knowing our needs, and asking for what we wanted or needed was not available to those of us raised in an abusive or neglectful environment. It could have actually been emotionally dangerous to ask for what you wanted because it could have set you up for a verbal or physical assault. We learned to either become completely out of touch with our needs or figured out a way to get them for ourselves without asking anyone. This is one more aspect of life where we never saw normal and have to learn now what we should have had the opportunity to learn as children.
As adult children we may continue the passive behavior that we cultivated by necessity while we were growing up. Passive behavior is an accommodation of wishes of another person without standing for one’s own rights. It involves self-denial. The person swallows what he really wants to say or the difference of opinion he/she has for fear of the repercussions. Those with passive behavior are consumed with fears: fear of failure, fear of displeasing others, fear of retaliation, fear of hurting others, and fear of getting into trouble. What a tormented, self-focused way to live!
On the other had aggressive people may behave in a polar opposite way to the passive person, but their behavior comes from the same place: poor self-esteem. They may feel “not OK,” but they consistently try to prove that they are in an “OK” position by attacking others. Aggressive people violate others’ rights so that they can get their way. They may use cold responses, speak angrily or make threatening gestures, display belligerent postures, show impatience, or shake their fists.
Passive-aggressive behavior can be hard to see at first because it doesn’t carry the drama and fury of outright aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressive people always win because they simply do not cooperate. They dig in their heels and don’t move. You may ask your spouse, who is on the Internet, to go to the store sometime in the next couple of hours to pick up some milk and bread. The reply is, “Sure dear.” It never happens. In this case it isn’t due to thoughtlessness, but rather passive-aggressive behavior. It comes from a place inside the person that says, “No one is going to tell me what to do!” It will take a while to pick up on the trends that show a person is passive-aggressive. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. After all, we all forget sometimes. Passive-aggressive people can also appear to be pleasant and agreeable on the surface. We may put up with a lot of this insanity for a long time before it hits us what is really going on.
Assertive behavior expresses ideas, feelings, and thoughts without being rude and unreasonable and without offending others. These people stand up for their rights without violating the rights of others. Verbal communication of an assertive person includes positive facial expressions, smiling, eye contact, pleasant voice, erect postures, and firm gestures. They don’t feel threatened and don’t allow others to control their behavior. They are direct, honest, and appropriate. An assertive person goes after goals and doesn’t just let life happen to them.
A critical aspect of recovery is learning who we are and what we want and then to appropriately ask others to meet those needs. If you have trouble with assertiveness here is a Web site of therapists in the Dayton area who can help you: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/state/OH/Dayton.html