How do you respond to other people? Do you know the difference between assertion and aggression? Is it ever appropriate to be aggressive or submissive? Which style do you favor?
While growing up, we learn three styles for meeting our needs: assertion, submission, and aggression. Each style is necessary for dealing with the variety of situations we experience. Problems emerge, however, when we are submissive or aggressive in situations that call for assertion.
When inappropriately submissive, we deny our own needs and rely on the good will of others or their need to control to meet these needs.
When we are in the submissive mode, it is difficult to say “no” when something does not suit us.
When inappropriately aggressive, we deny the needs of others and may abuse the very people who can meet our needs for caring and affection.
When we are in the aggressive mode, it is difficult to stay calm and simply say, “I am angry” if someone invades our space. We will, more likely, fly into a rage to express our displeasure.
Three Response Styles
Submissive behavior may be necessary or advisable when it is physically dangerous or socially inappropriate to express oneself more directly. Submissiveness is a problem, however, if it is our usual way of responding to others. Submissive behavior seeks to avoid conflict, risky situations, and confusion. Our communication is emotionally dishonest when we do not directly express our thoughts, feelings, and desires. We may withhold entirely or express ourselves indirectly. We may say “yes” to others when we want to say “no.”
Submissiveness as a lifestyle revolves around the belief that our rights to personal space or to engage in efforts to meet our personal needs are subject to the approval of others. When we are prevented from getting what we require, we may try to meet our needs in a passive-aggressive manner, or by withholding, guilt, manipulation, or sneakiness.
When we are submissive, we may blame ourselves for this perceived denial of rights and attempt to calm the situation with apologies or by talking around the point. We may agree to do things we really do not want to do. Allowing violations of boundaries, denial of rights, and exploitation, coupled with an ignorance of our own needs, are all part of a pattern of avoiding conflict and gaining the approval of others. “You” statements, which proclaim innocence and blame others, and assumptions that others should meet our needs, avoid personal vulnerability and responsibility. A reduced sense of “being alive,” unsatisfactory relationships, low self-esteem, martyrdom, negativity, disappointment, hurt, not getting what we want, and periodic outbursts of rage are characteristic consequences of submissiveness.