Talking Mental Health: Being Assertive


Have you ever felt that others were not respecting your rights, needs or weren’t taking you seriously?

At times like these, it can be challenging to feel comfortable speaking up or expressing yourself without anger or indignation.

Practicing assertiveness can help you develop the confidence to speak openly and to communicate your needs, feelings and preferences in a way that honours you and respects everyone.

It’s about having confidence to be true to your values and yourself and to speaking up to defend them.  Being assertive informs people of your perspective.

People sometimes misinterpret assertiveness as aggression. Aggression also expresses your rights and boundaries, but often at the expense of others. Assertiveness respects the needs and beliefs of each person in a situation.

Some people find it difficult to stick up for themselves, they might not feel they have the right, or feel uncomfortable or afraid so instead they hold back or shy away from asserting their needs and boundaries.

These feelings may be perpetuated by social and/or cultural isolation that contributes to their personal passivity or their feelings of inferiority.

But non-assertive behaviour is something people have learned to do.  Developing assertive skills involves learning and practicing new actions.

It is expressing your own feelings, listening to one another’s feelings, describing behaviour and desired change as well as valuing the experience of the person with whom you are interacting.

Consider the following scenario: your roommate never cleans their mess. You could be passive and say nothing and be upset while you clean up the mess yourself. You could be aggressive and say “You’re so rude to have your dirty dishes all over the place.”

Or, you could be assertive and say; “I want to talk about keeping our room clean. I feel frustrated when you don’t do your dishes. Maybe we could come up with a solution together.”

Sending an “I”message is a statement that asserts the speaker’s feelings, beliefs and values without putting the listener on the defensive and that states constructive feedback. Using an “I” message allows you to identify the problem and express what you would like to see happen without blaming the other person or ordering them around.

Anytime you put yourself out there, you are taking a risk and being assertive is no different. However, practicing assertiveness will increase your chances for honest relationships, heighten your self-esteem and give you a sense of control in everyday situations.

Assertiveness helps create an open and accepting environment in which diverse points of view are welcomed and respected.

It takes practice and time to evolve, but be patient with yourself. Try to put yourself out there and remember that you are entitled to respect in every situation.

You may wish to seek out self-help resources or work with one of the counsellors at counselling services. For further information or to make an appointment, visit us at


Lindsay Rennie is a counsellor at Wilfrid Laurier Counselling Services

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