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How to Be More Assertive in Relationships

Assertiveness falls between the extremes of aggression and passivity, finding a balanced middle ground. It is a skill that empowers us to care for ourselves while also respecting the rights of others. The purpose of assertiveness is not to control or influence others, but to honor one’s basic rights in a respectful manner. 

In my work with therapy and coaching clients, I find that people can struggle with assertiveness for a few reasons. 

The first is having misconceptions about what it means to be assertive. It’s not uncommon for people to confuse assertiveness with aggression, entitlement, or selfishness. The fear of being perceived negatively can make it hard to set healthy boundaries, especially for people with people-pleasing tendencies. In reality, good, kind people set healthy boundaries with others. 

Some people find it hard to be assertive in relationships because they didn’t grow up with assertive role models. They may not know what it would even look like to be assertive in certain situations. 

Finally, sometimes people fear the potential negative consequences of being assertive. They may be afraid of conflict, rejection, or disappointing people they care about if they express their needs assertively.

Despite these challenges, it’s important to learn how to express yourself assertively. It allows you to identify healthy relationships, and weed out relationships that might not be so healthy. It empowers you to care for yourself, while having the best shot at keeping your relationships with others healthy and strong.

The benefits of being assertive: 

Here are just a few of the benefits you can enjoy when you master assertive communication:

  1. Increased self-esteem: When you are in the habit of standing up for yourself with kindness and respect for others, it boosts your self-esteem
  2. Respect from others: Sometimes we have to show people how we want to be treated. By learning to be assertive, you demonstrate self-respect, which leads to receiving respect from others. 
  3. Clearer communication: Habits like people pleasing and conflict avoidance lead to some unclear communication patterns. If you struggle to be assertive, you may say things you don’t mean, shut down in conflict, or act out in passive aggressive ways. All of this can strain your relationships. 
  4. Opportunities for personal and relational growth: Becoming more assertive can lead to so much personal growth. It also helps you grow stronger, more authentic relationships with others. When you’re assertive, you allow other people to know the real you, which builds trust and emotional intimacy
  5. Feeling better: Becoming more assertive can bring relief from feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and inadequacy. 
  6. Getting what you want: It’s hard to get your needs met in relationships when you don’t know how to express those needs clearly and directly. Assertiveness helps you get what you want by asking for what you want. 

Greater sense of peace and control: Finally, becoming more assertive can help you feel more at ease and in control. It empowers you to do what’s best for you, rather than feeling like you “have” to do things you don’t want to do.

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How to Be More Assertive: Practical Steps

So, what practical steps can you take to start becoming more assertive in your relationships? Here are the top tips that I share with my clients: 

  1.  Learn About Your Basic Rights

Familiarize yourself with your basic rights as a human being. You have the right to autonomy, safety, self-expression, dignity, and more. Understanding what you are entitled to can give you a foundation for communicating your boundaries assertively.

  1. Distinguish Healthy Boundaries

Differentiate between assertive boundary setting and “toxic” boundaries. Healthy boundaries empower and protect, while toxic boundaries can feel controlling and can harm relationships.

  1. Accept Discomfort

Being assertive doesn’t always feel comfy, for anyone. Accepting that you will sometimes feel uncomfortable is an important step in learning how to be more assertive. 

  1. Develop Self-Soothing Tools

Learning self-soothing techniques can help you manage the discomfort and anxiety that may come up as you practice assertiveness. This may include mindfulness, deep breathing, or other calming practices. A good therapist can help you practice new strategies to regulate yourself during difficult moments. 

  1. Understand the Anatomy of Assertive Boundaries

Learn about assertive boundaries and familiarize yourself with assertiveness scripts. Having a toolkit of communication skills can help you find the words to express yourself assertively.

  1. Be Prepared for Different Responses

Accept that others may not always respond as you hope when you assert yourself, especially if they’re used to you being fairly passive in the relationship. Trust yourself to navigate whatever reactions come up.

  1. Practice Regularly

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Being assertive feels easier the more you do it, so don’t give up! 

Support for Assertive Communication

I hope this article gave you some useful information about how to become more assertive. I know that putting these ideas into practice can be challenging, but with consistency, you can learn to set healthy boundaries and feel more at-ease in your relationships with others.  

And if you would like my support with developing assertiveness skills and increasing your self-esteem, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Kathleen C., M.Ed., LPC, NCC


  1. Omura M, Levett-Jones T, Stone TE. Evaluating the impact of an assertiveness communication training programme for Japanese nursing students: A quasi-experimental study. Nurs Open. 2018 Dec 9;6(2):463-472. doi: 10.1002/nop2.228. PMID: 30918697; PMCID: PMC6419109.
  2. Empathy and Assertive Communication.

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