Assertiveness issues

Assertiveness issues

Lack of Assertiveness & Fear of Confrontation


Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings in a calm, polite, non-confrontational way without being aggressive. It is having the ability to make choices and to say ‘no’ to something you don’t want. This sounds straightforward but can be complicated and extremely difficult for many people.

The causes of lack of assertiveness

It usually originates in childhood as a blend of personality and parenting. If a child is frightened by the response of an adult or older sibling to something they have asked for or been upset about, then they will learn to avoid doing or saying anything that upsets, displeases or annoys someone else. They often grow up to be people pleasers, seeking approval and finding affirmation in being someone who can be relied on to fit in and respond positively to any request. The positive side to this is that such people are often sensitive, generous, kind and thoughtful. The negative aspect is that lack of assertiveness can result in being taken advantage of by others. Not having your own needs met or wishes taken into account over a period of time can lead to anger and frustration, and the potential of being abused.

Fear of confrontation

Lack of assertiveness is usually also part of fear of confrontation. Not only is there a desire to please in order to be accepted and liked, but also the fear of provoking an unpleasant response by confronting someone. That response could be distress, anger or rejection, any of which are reasons for them to fear addressing difficult issues.

Consequences of lack of assertiveness and fear of confrontation

The consequences can be varied and painful. It can lead to being bullied, both in relationships and at work. It can mean that a person becomes overburdened by requests from others which interfere with family life. It can also result in supressed anger and frustration, leading to withdrawal, moods and explosive outbursts. It can also lead more easily to situations of abuse. In a relationship the abuse can be physical, emotional, financial or sexual. Being afraid of confrontation can mean being caught up in the abusive partner’s ever increasing demands which can become more demeaning, controlling and threatening.

How can counselling help?

Counselling can help a person understand where their fears originated and the impact of lack of assertiveness on their present lives. It can encourage taking steps towards changing behaviours and thought processes and becoming more boundaries and clear.

How long will it take?

Usually this type of counselling may take a longer period of time because the feelings of anxiety and fear are very entrenched. The younger the person was when they started to feel this way, the more deeply ingrained it is in their psyche. It will depend on the individual but often it takes small steps into changing behaviour and dealing with the consequences before a person becomes confident. When this happens, it can be a life changing experience, increasing a person’s self-confidence, self-esteem and both self-respect and the respect that others have for them.