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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Treatment for anxiety disorders and depression.


Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for ourselves and to say how we feel when we feel we need to. It includes:

  • Expressing your own opinion and feelings.
  • Saying "no" without feeling guilty.
  • Setting your own priorities i.e. choosing how you spend your time.
  • Asking for what you want.
  • Being able to take reasonable risks.
  • Choosing not to assert yourself at times when you feel it would be better not to say anything.

If you are missing out on any of these it is possible that you have difficulty asserting yourself. This sheet explains more about the problems and gives some suggestions on how to be more assertive.



Here are a few typical problems caused by lack of assertiveness.

  • Saying "yes" to requests for favours from friends and relatives, no matter how unfair the requests are.
  • Begin afraid to return damaged goods or point out poor service in shops and restaurants.
  • Difficulty expressing positive feelings i.e. giving compliments.
  • A fear of being criticised by others.
  • A fear of people in authority.

People who do not assert themselves not only fail to get what is due them and also tend to feel bad about themselves. They may go over a situation in their mind time and time again thinking, "Why didn't I say that?" or "If only I'd done this". This can lead to feelings of blame, depression and anxiety.


The main reason for unassertive behaviour is a fear of what might happen if you are assertive. What do you fear might happen if you did stand up for your rights? You may fear that you would feel extremely guilty or anxious after asserting yourself. These fears are usually based on false beliefs about assertiveness. Let's have a look at some of these myths.

I'll be being selfish if I say what I want

All we are doing by being assertive is putting our own needs on an equal level with the needs of other people. It is important for our own well being to do this. This is helpful for other people as well. We are not doing anyone a favour by letting them take us for granted or get whatever they want from us.

Here is another example of how it can help other people. Supposing you were watching a film in a cinema and the person behind you was talking all the time. By politely saying something like: "excuse me, would you mind not talking while the film is on", you would be helping both yourself and the people around you.

Note that this is quite different from an aggressive comment like "Why don't you shut up!" which is only likely to lead to an argument.

If I stand up for myself the other person will become upset and angry

This assumes that other people are always unreasonable. Remember, you are only asking to be treated as an equal and not making big demands. Most people will recognise this and accept your point of view. In fact, you may be surprised how easily they agree with you.

People won't like me if I say what I want

Think of the people you know who are assertive. Do you think any less of them for that? The chances are you respect them more for being assertive. People are likely to think more of you if you assert yourself as it means they know where they stand with you.

I feel too anxious to start being assertive

This is something of a vicious circle. Being assertive for the first time is always hard but it becomes easier after that.

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