The holiday seasons are approaching. It is a time to celebrate, rejoice, enjoy the company of our family members, sing songs, eat grandiose meals and share gifts. You are having a good time and then it happens; a family member just has to point out the obvious and ruin your night. I don’t know how it is in other cultures and I would love to hear about it from you, but in the Israeli culture you always have at least one person in the room, whom you just can’t escape.

The single person will get remarks such as ‘how come you are not married yet?…  you are not getting any younger you know. ..  You are just too picky… what are you waiting for? or Don’t worry, maybe next celebration will be your wedding, it will be ok….This is naturally accompanied by a pitiful look and a pat on the back. A married childless woman will get ‘when are you going to have children? You can’t wait forever you know…  a woman your age ….a career is not everything.. do you have a medical problem?’. And the unemployed or still searching for himself type, will probably hear comments such as ’ another year gone… isn’t it a shame? When are you going to do something with your life, such a waste…’

I bet by that time you start telling yourself  ‘Why? Why did I not learn from last year and said NO?’

Well, when confronted with such a problem you have a few options. You can choose to drink yourself silly, smoke like a train and eat anything in sight, which is another big problem in itself, or confront it head on. Which brings me to the topic of this entry: aggressive vs. assertive behaviour and in part 2how to say NO.

Part 1

A behaviour can be labelled as aggressive, if it is intended to hurt someone and is carried out with the belief that it indeed shall (Durkin, 1995). The meaning of aggression differs between the genders. Women tend to see aggression as an emotional expression while men perceive it as instrumental (Campbell, 1993). Aggressive behaviour can also be described in terms of control. It can be a planned, cold and calculated attack that focuses on the goal to cause pain, hurt, intimidate or humiliate. The focus is on the ends and not the means. An impulsive aggressive act, on the other hand, occurs as a result of an impulse and usually when the perpetrator is emotionally aroused. The aggression is a way of striking back at a frustrating source. It is a reaction of an inner impulse that externalizes the emotions that are felt. Some may even act without looking at the effects of their behaviour or what they are doing.  

A verbally aggressive person will push their own ideas, wishes and desires on to the other without any considerations to their needs, feelings and opinions nor respect to personal boundaries. By using aggressive behaviour, one expresses his rights at the expense of the other. An aggressive person is often self-righteous, inflexible and over-controlling individual, who also tends to intimidate others non-verbally.

An assertive behaviour, on the other hand, means standing up for your rights without infringing on the rights of others and intentionally causing hurt. One presents one’s ideas, needs and wishes in a respectable, confident and firm manner. An assertive person is more empathetic, flexible and respects the bound­aries of other peo­ple. An assertive behaviour aims at resolving conflicts and achieving goals in a manner that is beneficial to all parties involved. Such a person is able to express his or herself in a calm tone without being overbearing, interrupting or talking over others.  A conscious effort  is made to control anger and frustration and to achieve goals in a positive way.

Reacting to others, especially when they are the source of your anger or frustrations can be challenging. Saying something rude, insulting or hurtful back is the aggressive manner. Assertiveness is the best policy, especially when your relationship to that person is important to you. A relationship does not imply having the freedom to send cheap shots your way, hurt, insult you or invade your privacy.  Being assertive also shows confidence and  self-collectiveness. Thus, in a calm and friendly voice and with an additional eye contact, tell that person what you think, how you feel about what they said and how you wish they would not do that in the future as you find it offensive.   You can also build your message by the good news- bad news – good news method. For example, ‘I understand that you are concerned but I know what is important to me and what I want out of life.  Please do not discuss my private life at the dinner table, it makes me uncomfortable. Should I feel the need to talk about it then I will come to you’.

 If the other person is reasonable then your assertiveness and your wishes will be respected.  It should be mentioned that if from past experience you expect such behaviour, have a well thought- out, assertive and witty comment ready before you go. Rehearsing it will give you more confidence to say it when the time comes.  

Durkin, K. (1995). Developmental social psychology. Oxford: Blackwell publishers.

Campbell, A. (1993). Men, women and aggression. New York: Basic books.