What is assertiveness?

People often confuse aggressive and assertive behaviour. When they think of being assertive, they worry about being seen as aggressive. So what is assertiveness and how can it help you as a person living with persistent pain?

Being aggressive, passive or assertive are three different things

Being aggressive means:

  • Expressing feelings and opinions in a way that punishes, threatens or puts others down.
  • Not taking any account of the rights and needs of others.
  • Aiming to get our own way no matter what.
  • ‘Winning’ by aggression will leave someone else with bad feelings-making it difficult to relate to them in future.

Being passive means:

  • Allowing others to take advantage of us, not standing up for our rights.
  • Leaving others to make decisions and avoiding the responsibility of making choices
  • Seeing ourselves as helpless victims of unfairness. Not being in control of our lives.

Being assertive means:

  • Recognising our needs and asking openly and direct for what we want.
  • Recognising and respecting the rights and needs of other people.
  • Relating to people at home and at work in an open and honest way.
  • Feeling responsible for and in control of our own actions.
  • Being prepared to compromise – not seeing situations as win or lose.
  • Resolving disagreements in a way that feels fair to those involved.


Assertive communication results in you achieving what you want to achieve and the other person not feeling bad as a result.

Learning to be assertive is skill in itself and takes practice. It also uses other skills from the Ten Footsteps programme, such as:


Learn more, with Ten Footsteps

You can find out more about the importance of communication skills for people with pain, in Ten Footsteps to Living Well with Pain, our step-by-step guide to pain self-management