Assertiveness: sharing your identity

Assertiveness involves being clear what activities are fundamental to you; what activities are fundamentally not you; and what activities are negotiable.

Maybe you’re a person who finds it difficult to assert themselves on a situation.  Maybe you tend to wait a long time, and listen to other people’s points of view, before you offer your own.  Maybe you would rather do someone else’s bidding, than ask other people to do what you want.  Maybe you are afraid even to say what you want, in case you are rejected, or considered stupid, or selfish.

Psychological problems, in this area, often come because someone is trying to be what they are not.  If you are busy impressing someone else, then you have no time to be yourself.  If you are busy living up to to other people’s standards, then you have no time to live life as you think best.  If you listen too hard to what other people value, then you can find the things you value demoted and dismissed, until you feel a shadow of your former self.

There is a genuine balance to be struck.  If you fight too hard for what you value, then you can end up, like a war-monger, fighting only battles, and unfamiliar with the territory of peace.  If, on the other hand, you let everyone else get what they want, then you can end up like a prisoner, with no rights, and unable to function in a normal society.

You might have to compromise with life.  That is what life balance is.  For those unaccustomed to negotiating, this can be very painful.  But, if you can learn the art of negotiation, then you can find a limited amount of practical freedom.

A good way to begin the process, is to get a piece of paper, and draw on it two large overlapping circles.  Label one circle ‘me’, and the other circle ‘other’.   Label the bit in the middle ‘us’.  You will then have three territories, one for ‘me’, one for, ‘other’, and one in the middle, which is your negotiating area.  Then you can try populating the diagram with aspects of your life.

  1. In the area marked ‘me’, put the behaviours which are so fundamental to you that you wish to keep them, no matter who tries to persuade you otherwise.  Examples might include a time each week when you like to go for a walk alone; or your meditation sessions; or even how you like to dress.  It could be your chosen gender identity, or a philosophical viewpoint.  It could be an activity, or a journey, or a vocation.
  2. In the area marked ‘other’, put behaviours which belong to others, and which others seem reluctant to change.  They may not be what you would do, but they seem a key part of what other people assert and fight for.  Examples might include a friend’s drug habit; someone’s philosophical belief which you disagree with; a friend’s activity which you do not want to participate in.  It could be other journeys or vocations which you do not consider work for you.
  3. In the middle area marked ‘us’, put behaviours which you are prepared to share.  They are activities which you have noticed are a commonality between you and others.  Examples might include mealtimes (we all have to eat!); shared values and hobbies; shared interests; shared journeys; shared vocations.  This can include activities which you don’t completely like, but which are a bridge between you and others.  For instance, you may not like a particular job, but you recognise it as necessary negotiation if you are to pay your bills.
This is a technique sometimes used in marriage guidance counselling.  The reason it works, it because it helps couples to negotiate with each other, and discover workable solutions.  It also helps couples be assertive with each other.

  1. They can share what activities are fundamental to their identity, even if their partner disagrees.
  2. They can find out what activities are fundamental to their partner’s identity, even if they disagree.
  3. They can explore what activities they can share.


Do I find it hard, sometimes, to tell others who I am, and what I am feeling?  Am I scared to share too much of myself, because I fear being rejected, or hurt, or mocked, or considered selfish?

Am I living in a way that stops me living up to my full potential?  Have I got enough time to flower and be myself?  Are there areas of my life where I feel restricted, unable to be truly myself?

Even though I am afraid, can I try to be clear in my mind about what matters to me?  Can I can also take a genuine interest in others’ lives, and find out what matters most to them?

Where I identify activities which I treasure very much, can I hold them out to others as not to be compromised?

Where others want to do things which I don’t want to participate in, can I respect the person, but not participate in the activity?

Can I also explore the rich area of joint activity with other humans?  We are social animals, dependent on each other for life and sustenance.  Perhaps, in these shared areas, we can thrive together.