What is assertiveness? I define it in my books as fair, principled, and disciplined, fighting. Fighting? Yes, fighting! Perhaps you’ve always thought of fighting as inherently bad. But the fact is human beings do an incredible amount of it. Strife is the inevitable reality of life. (And it’s a more pronounced reality in certain cultures and environments.) To survive and prosper in a potentially hostile world is a struggle. Accordingly, we pour a lot of energy into those pursuits.
Some equate human aggression with violence. But violence is just one of the many ways we can express our aggression. We humans fight in so many ways it’s hard to count them all. Most of these ways aren’t particularly violent (at least not overtly so). So it’s more appropriate to define human aggression as the forceful pursuit of wants and needs .
To maintain a civilized world, it matters when, why, and especially, how we fight. Now, some of life’s battles are simply thrust upon us. Others we voluntarily undertake. And many are well worth waging, especially when core values are at stake. But our passionate pursuits always impact others. That’s where the conscientiousness of character comes in. Assertiveness is all about passionate and just self-advocacy while being mindful and respectful of the rights and needs of others.
How Disturbed Characters Fight
We live in a character-impaired age. So, too many among us fight unscrupulously. Disturbed characters fight when it’s not necessary. And they fight for strictly self-serving purposes. And, sadly, they fight without sufficient care for the impact on others. (This makes disturbed characters destructive as opposed to constructive fighters.) In my books and other writings I describe 5 major aggressive personality sub-types:
- Unbridled Aggressive (i.e. thoughtless, undisciplined fighters)
- Channeled Aggressive (i.e. more calculating, careful fighters)
- Sadistic Aggressive (i.e. callous, fiendish, cruel fighters)
- Predatory Aggressive (i.e. heartless, exploitative fighters)
- Covert-Aggressive (i.e. stealthy, sometimes charming, underhanded, crazy-making fighters)
You can find several articles on each of these types on the blog. (Use the search feature to peruse the many relevant articles.) And you can read about the first four listed in more depth in Character Disturbance. In Sheep’s Clothing concerns itself more exclusively with the last, manipulative type.
Make no mistake, none of the types listed above are all that distinct. Disturbed characters often possess many problematic personality traits. Moreover, all the aggressive personalities are also inherently and significantly narcissistic. So, especially in our times, it’s folly to overly categorize people in the hope of understanding them. That’s why I go to such lengths to explain the vast spectrum of character dysfunction.
The Role of Anger
We’ve always known that anger and aggression are linked. But just how they’re link is still a matter of some debate. And when it comes to the aggressive personalities, anger and aggression are linked in a most interesting way.
Anger is perhaps our most misunderstood emotion. Nature gave it to us for a very good reason. We instinctively get angry when we perceive an attack or injustice. And our anger response is meant to propel us into corrective action. How we take such action largely defines the integrity of our character. Assertiveness is fighting at the right time, for a just cause, and in a conscientious, constructive manner.
We intuitively think folks aggress because they’re angry. But some folks simply fight too often, too hard, and too indiscriminately simply because they want something. They get angry when denied or encounter opposition. They’re usually already in the aggressive mode long before they become angry. And their aggression is often rooted in pure desire as opposed to either anger or fear. (Read more about this in Character Disturbance and How Did We End Up Here?.) That’s why so many of these folks fail to profit from so-called “anger management” programs. (Search the many articles on this topic, including: (Anger Problems and Anger Management.)
The 8th Commandment
For the next few weeks we’ll be talking about the “8th commandment” of sound character development. It speaks to the issues discussed above:
Neither anger nor aggression are inherently evil. But fight only when necessary; fight fairly; and above all, fight constructively , taking as much care as possible to make things better while respecting the rights, needs, and boundaries of self and others.
I’ll also be talking a lot about the spiritual dimensions of this commandment. And you can read more about that in The Judas Syndrome.