Assertive vs. Aggressive vs. Passive
Ever get confused on what is assertive behavior and what is aggressive behavior? A lot of people do. So what is the difference?
Aggressive people are pushy and loud. People describe them as bossy, intimidating, abusive or dominating. They like to get their way and get angry if they don’t. They give in to their knee jerk reactions. They violate other people’s rights and they like to get even. They attack people instead of problems. They can be egotistical, hostile and demanding. They often take advantage of others because they can. Their goal is often to control, humiliate, degrade, dominate and overpower. They send the message “What I think counts. You are stupid of you think differently.” These aren’t nice people to be around. Others say they have “anger” issues. Another word for them is BULLY.
Assertive people are my favorite kind of folks. They express their feelings directly but with respect for others. They not only respect others…they respect themselves. They listen and learn. They are usually self-confident (at least in the matter in which they are asserting themselves). They allow others to disagree without getting worked up about it. They send the message “I respect you and I will help you within my healthy boundaries.” They are honest and upfront. You usually don’t have to guess at where they stand. Their goal is to listen and be heard. They have healthy boundaries and then enforce them with firm limits, although they do so with respect for the other person. They don’t enjoy conflict, but they will confront. They usually have healthy relationships. They can be outspoken or quiet.
Passive people are another group. They avoid problems and confrontations. They allow themselves to be manipulated. They give up their rights and often feel inadequate. They rarely make choices such as…where to go for dinner or what movie to see. They don’t express their thoughts in front of groups. They have trouble saying “no”, and then become angry or resentful because they feel taken advantage of. They feel unappreciated. They won’t stand up for their rights or the rights of others. They usually talk softly. They are background dwellers hoping to avoid a lot of attention. Others see them as meek, mild-mannered and accommodating. Their goal is to keep others happy and avoid conflict at any cost. Others describe them as very easy to get along with. Ever get a limp hand shake? It’s a passive person on the other end of that line.
These behavioral styles have been on my mind a lot lately. Each of us has some of the elements from each of those categories at some point in our lives…however, we tend to be characterized by one more than the others. I’m assertive. I like assertive people. I don’t enjoy aggressive people, but I can usually handle them. Sometimes the best way to handle an aggressive person is with passive behavior. I know…it can be confusing.
Sometimes…passive people do not like those who are assertive. It makes sense when you think about it. If you are extremely passive, an assertive person can seem threatening because assertive people face conflict. Since passive people want to avoid conflict, they can get fairly twitchy around the assertive people. Aggressive people eat them for lunch.
Aggressive people don’t get along well with anyone. They despise passive people because they can walk all over them and they can’t respect that. They want to fight with assertive people because here is finally someone who will stand up to them but won’t try to overpower them.
Marriages are often a match of one style with the other. Get two aggressive people together and the world calls that “passion”. They fight like pit bulls and make up with fireworks. Drama!
Two assertive people will spark off each other, but things don’t usually get out of hand and everyone feels listened to and understood.
Two passive people…..well, I don’t know what they do. Congeal I guess. I can’t even imagine that scenario. They probably apologize to each other with every breath.
Now remember…I’m not saying that passive people are always passive or assertive people are always assertive, etc. We can slip through each of these categories on any given day, depending on the circumstance and our mood. Some men would say women get aggressive for about a week every month. Some women probably do.
I want to be honest here. I’m having a lot of trouble lately dealing with predominantly passive people. I have a hard time respecting them. I sometimes see them as weak and cowardly. I’m not proud of that. I’m not talking about quiet strength here. I’m talking about people who run from conflict or who cannot face a difficult situation responsibly. They slink off somewhere and hope the problem goes away. I’m really asking God to give me grace and compassion for these types of people. They make me want to be aggressive! Sometimes I want to throttle them! Make no mistake…violence is ALWAYS aggressive. I guess I just don’t understand them. They frustrate me. Passive people are usually well-liked. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with someone who never makes a fuss over where you eat or what you do? They are tripping over themselves to make you happy. But I think they get boring fast. I enjoy being around people who can banter (in a healthy way) back and forth. I want to talk with people who will express their opinions. I want to work with people who will say…”Hey, that hurt my feelings” instead of pouting silently and building resentment. I don’t want to be around someone who walks on eggshells around me.
The thing about people though….they come in all flavors. We don’t often get to choose who we work with, worship with or minister with. Dang it! Even Jesus showed each of these behavioral traits at some point in his life, although I think we will all agree that he was characteristically assertive. Taking a whip to the temple retailers would be….ummm…let me see….aggressive? I believe it would.
Assertiveness must be a desirable trait because there are lots of anger management therapies for the aggressive AND assertiveness training for the passive. When I’m aggressive, it usually comes out in ugly sarcasm. I haven’t hit anyone in a long time. Ruthie S. wanted to whip my butt in high school. After months of torture, I shoved her down in a classroom. At least I didn’t hit her…although, I was going to if she got back up swinging. She finally stopped threatening me (she was suspended), but I still remember feeling weak and sick the whole day knowing I was going to do it the next time she opened her mouth. We were both called in to the principal. I was patted on the head and sent back to class. Ruthie was sent home. Hey! Life isn’t fair. But Ruthie was characterized as aggressive…and I wasn’t. It was my “get out of jail free” card. I have to admit though. I got a high every time I walked down the hall at school and the football players would hum the theme from Rocky. Guys like an assertive woman!
I also remember being afraid to stand up for myself with people who sexually, physically or emotionally abused me. I hated myself for being passive. When I finally got the nerve to draw a firm boundary line, I often used aggression rather than assertiveness. I defended myself with verbal abuse. I over-compensated. I’ve done this with minor offenses too. I have been known to “show my rear end” (as they say in Appalachia), when I’m tired or irritable. I shouldn’t tell this…but oh well. I lived in Nashville fresh out of college. I had just gone through the drive thru at Taco Bell. I had food on the seat next to me and a big coke seated in the console. Some guy didn’t like the way I was driving so when I stopped at a red light…he hit me hard enough to throw my food and coke all over the place, but not hard enough to damage my car. People! I was pissed. Before I even thought about the consequences, I threw my car in reverse and punched the gas pedal. I hit him hard enough to do damage to both of our cars but I didn’t care. Well…of course a redneck can’t be bested so he literally follows me trying to run me off the road. I’m lucky he didn’t have a gun…or maybe he is lucky I didn’t have one. I was an idiot! (But I still smile when I think of it…what does that say about me?) It occurs to me as I write this story that it isn’t clear which of us is the redneck.
Once again…I guess it all comes down to balance. God, please help me love the passive people in this world. Even when that passive person is me.