Recently, I attended a professional women’s conference where I heard in a talk about assertiveness, that being aggressive is much closer to being assertive than being passive (incidentally, most of the women in that room identified with passivity more than the other two categories, including myself even though I have been assertive and aggressive in more recent years). Then there is passive-aggressive, when an individual who is usually a doormat turns around and gives it back to the person who has repeatedly messed with her (or him, as the case may be).
I have thought deeply about this over the last few weeks and have come to the conclusion that all three states of being – passive, assertive and aggressive – are necessary in different situations throughout your lifetime. I will explain…
Passivity is generally seen as a powerless state to be in but at times it is very much needed. An extreme example of this would be if you were held at gunpoint and told to do things you would not normally do – submitting in a situation like this might just save your life. On the less severe end of the spectrum, you may not want to confront certain people because you are too tired, don’t care about it or need to be somewhere else doing something else – all good reasons to simply let things slide.
Assertiveness is the “holy grail” when it comes to standing up for yourself but this will not always work, especially when you are dealing with aggressive (or underhanded) people. It would be like trying to communicate in a language that they do not understand. In this case, I would recommend arcing up because then you will be on the same wavelength. Overall I have found that deliberately mimicking the other person’s behavior elicits respect, even if at first they are pissed off with you for calling them out on their bullshit. Assertiveness, generally speaking, works when you are dealing with passive, or other assertive individuals.
Aggressiveness is supposed to be about violating the rights of others by not treating them with respect but if this is the way they’re treating you, it’s only just to give it back to them. I have discovered (as I mentioned above) that if you are faced with such people, the only thing that will register on their radar is meeting them on the same level. It is very difficult to speak calmly with someone who is yelling at you simply because they can’t, or won’t hear you. Then you have the ones who are disrespecting you by lying, patronizing you, or manipulating you, usually in a calm tone with a creepy, sadistic smile on their faces. You may confront these people by saying something like, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining”, or do exactly what they are doing to you. Then there are those who carry out their machinations behind your back. When they are caught they need to be confronted, again, in the manner, and the extent to which they have been messing with you – it’s called: “Taking Back Your Power” (i.e. dignity, self-respect, self-worth).
Then there are those that you will not be able to get through to no matter which approach you use…why bother wasting your time and energy with these ones?
Now, as for passive-aggressive…it is a very unbalanced state to be in, flipping from one extreme to the other. The healthiest position to be in is in the middle, at assertiveness, where you can easily jump to either of the other positions with little or no effort. Remember, however, that assertiveness and aggressiveness are, more often than not, two sides of the same coin.