I have been struggling with becoming more assertive for a while. When I was young, I lived in a house where I was constantly told what to do and pushed around by my parents and older brother. My dad is the type of person who will raise his voice at anyone if he feels slightly taken advantage of-- for example- if someone is even somewhat rude at the market he causes a scene, I HATED this hyper vigilance and found myself being a very agreeable person just to counter what I saw in my dad. I also found myself as a teen lacking self esteem and being a pushover. I went to a high school with a lot of smart kids who were very unhappy...I always found myself trying to make others laugh and trying to fit in. In retrospect I regret how much energy I invested in trying to make others happy (from childhood- through college). I want to make it clear that I am a fairly good leader-- I am a good big picture thinker, attentive, and considerate. HOWEVER as I enter manhood (I'm 24 now), I still feel remnants of my weak past and it haunts me. I worked as a camp counselor this last summer and I was working mainly with teenage boys. I think at first I did a good job of being strict but also considerate--however as the summer progressed I became tired and found myself giving in to the requests of these teens. Though overall I think I did a good job-- I still HATE myself for occasionally comprimising some of the rules/ getting pushed over so I would be liked. I want to learn how to stand my ground--- not in a overly aggressive defensive way like my dad---but in a calm and unrelenting fashion, Though bullies don't exist as overtly as they did when I was a kid-- I still want to have confidence that I will fight for what I believe in regardless of risk of being disliked...... Can you help?

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Don't feel so bad; you are only 24, right? I've spent twice the amount of time expending an awful lot of energy making everyone else happy.

To hit that sweet spot of standing ground in a calm, unrelenting Jedi fashion I strongly believe emotional control is key. If you can keep emotions out of the picture that's most of the battle; then you won't fly off the handle or back down from the strain of making someone unhappy.
That's the theory anyway. It's been very difficult for me to put it into practice, I have an extra 25 years of buried rage to deal with.

Good luck.

Part of being assertive and not being a pushover is knowing which battles to fight.  Example a child wants cookies instead of an apple for a snack.  You feel he is not eating enough healthy stuff.  Do you fight him over it, compromise, or give in?  If that same child wants to run across a busy street do you let him or do you stop him? (severe examples).

Most of the time if the issue is unimportant compromise is the best solution.  The apples vs. cookies example I would let my 5 y/o have a couple of cookies if he agreed to have apple slices for his next snack or include the apples with the cookies.  Or, if I can give him a healthy snack later that day.  But if an issue is important immediate danger, potential danger, risk of harm then there is no compromise.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Good leaders are not dictators.  Good leaders will ask for input from their followers and take that input into consideration in their decision.  But, the decision is not the followers it is the leaders to make. Only when there is no real choice would I not ask for input from my subordinates but I always let them know, unless it's classified, what we are doing and why.

I think this is the most important part. KNowing what battles are worthy of being fought.


Something I still struggle with, yet hope I am getting better at.

Here's someone who fought for what he believed in without bluster or bullying.


...in a calm, unrelenting, nonaggressive way (AFAIK).

Maybe he will inspire.

A good leader isn't one who always knows what's right; no one can always know what's right it's not possible.  A good leader is one that knows he doesn't know everything but knows who to ask and how to make the hard decisions and how to take responsibility for those decisions.

Can you help?

Yes, I can. This is one of my specialties, and I'm currently writing a book on the topic.

My dad is the type of person who will raise his voice at anyone if he feels slightly taken advantage of-- for example- if someone is even somewhat rude at the market he causes a scene, I HATED this hyper vigilance and found myself being a very agreeable person just to counter what I saw in my dad.

The acorn doesn't fall all that far from the tree, eh? 

Your different symptoms stem from exactly the same problem: both of you are too needy for other people to think, talk to you, and treat you in a way to validate your sense of self. He needs them to show him respect; you want people to believe that you're Mr. Nice Guy, that is, you want their approval--without taking advantage of you of course which would just make you feel like a doormat.

Suppose you walked up to a counter for service, and someone refused to serve you. That has happened to me many times; this is a very radical city and you're going to find a lot of extremes of behavior incuding some very hostile patterns. I've been assaulted by a bus driver, several bus drivers have gone postal on me, several have told me to get off the bus because they don't like my kind, and I've been refused service at service counters point blank. Once was in a grocery store where Caucasians almost never shop, and the cashier not only refused to ring up my order but insinuated I didn't have the funds to pay for it. It was right in front of my cousin and I was humiliated by the cashier's arrogant and hostile attitude, like I was riff-raff. I've been in a number of those situations--it's a tit-for-tat thing based on status.

Now, imagine a situation like that. You might reasonably feel enraged--like your dad might. I used to too. It was particularly bad when someone insulted my intelligence, because I had always been told I was "smart", so I was stupidly trying to defend a self-image as if their opinion of my intelligence was even vaguely relevant--I was allowing myself to get sucked into THEIR sense of reality.

Now, I don't. When someone is pointedly rude to me, I say "it's too bad YOU feel that way", tip my hat, wish them a pleasant day, and saunter out the door whistling a merry tune. No negative emotional reaction at all, or if there is just a smidgeon, I can resolve it in one short breath.

I do not allow others to have more control over my emotions than I do!! I do NOT react with negative emotions in those situations.

It's the same with grovelling for approval. You don't need to do that either. Politeness is good, but not a sort of servile need to ingratiate. You need to convince yourself that you do not require anyone else's approval. That you can be a happy and successful person without their permission if it comes to that.

Now, I hope that you let go of any negative feelings you might have for your dad. For one thing, you're doing something equivalent for the same reasons. For another, you'll both be happier if you accept him the way he is, lovingly accepting his limitations just as you accept your own. If you can grow out of this need for validation and approval, perhaps you can help him by example.

One thing that might help is meditation. It trains your brain to be able to over-ride habits and impulses. When you catch yourelf acting like a doormat, you can STOP and remember to POLITELY assert your rights.

Great success to you, bro.

HOWEVER as I enter manhood (I'm 24 now)

You've been legally a man for 6 years now, and physically so probably longer than that. I can help fill the gap there too, but I'm not prepared with comments off the top of my head at the moment. Wait for the book, and friend me if you want to be alerted when it's ready.

I think the first thing to understand about when and how to stand up for yourself, as others have said, is learning what battles to fight and when it is better to just walk away.  I think most of us just want peace, which at least in part means a lack of conflict.  I have known people like your father, and seeing such frequent and irrational displays of anger only feed that desire to go in the other direction.  As someone who has grown up with a disability from a very early age, I'd like to think I know a thing or two about being pushed around and bullied by others.  I had a real awakening after a former friend and roommate turned on me.  This person made the last six weeks we lived together one of the darkest times of my life, and the degree to which he would go to ruin my life each day still amaze me even many years later.  I had honestly thought that if I did not fight back and tried to placate him, he'd back off.  But in fact, the opposite was true.  It only emboldened him more.  I learned then that while there are genuinely good people out there, ultimately, the only person you can really count on to stand up for yourself is you.  No one will look out for my interests more than I will.  This discussion reminds me of the movie "Anger Management" and how Adam Sandler learned to stop being such a pushover and how to stand up for himself without losing control.  I like the seen near the beginning of the movie where the guy (I forget both his actor and movie name) explains that there are two extremes; either the guy who blows up at every little thing, or the guy who just sits there and takes it until one day, he snaps and walks into a store and blows everyone away.  I think the lesson to take from that movie is to find the healthy middle ground.  So I hope that my ramblings have helped you in some way. 

Repeat after me.




It's really just that simple.  Assertiveness really is just the willingness to stick to your principles.  In your example of the summer camp, the kids were asking permission from you as an authority figure.  Yes.  No.  Later today.  Realize and accept that these are your choices, not theirs.


The real trick is to balance assertiveness with aggressiveness.  You don't want to fall to the side of aggression.


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