Principled Fighting Defines Assertiveness


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.


20 thoughts on “Principled Fighting Defines Assertiveness

  1. When I read this what stands out to me is the methods of fighting that are listed which are primarily aggressiveness (multiple kinds).

    Unlearning what I took in, can be guided by the Rules of Fair Fighting.

    More than anything I never learned to stand up for myself, but to do so constructively. It doesn’t happen overnight, there are years of conditioning when it comes to this-cutting off contact helped-I am not exposed to that kind of behavior.

  2. I missed my opportunity this weekend with my daughter, for some reason I did not recognize she was bullying me, I countered with trying to explain what went on. That was not effective as it didn’t address the bullying. Anger is a good red flag in that it alerts you that something is happening which is not right. I am sick of the bullying and am ready to address this properly, but next step is identifying when it is happening. What gets me is that I could identify it with someone else, with my daughter I seem to not realize until its over. It happened to involve someone at my church so that is when she really attacks, anything to do with my attendance at church, my belief in God she really cannot stand. I don’t know that I want to “fight back”, I am thinking of a way to address the behavior as disrespectful and accusing.

    1. kat

      After going through the turmoil of being married to a bully narc, and learning tactics here on this site and having become educated in the comprehensive behaviors of a CD, I learned to quit explaining myself.
      You don’t owe her an explanation. It’s none of her business what your convictions are – They Are Yours.
      I’ve been where you are, explaining myself when attacked. Defending myself when attacked. It’s not necessary. It’s exhausting and leaves one feeling sickened.
      They should not be attacking in the first place.
      Anytime you feel the need to explain yourself, realize at that moment you’re being bullied. Go on the offensive, address HER behavior as being unacceptable, and if she continues on, remove yourself from her presence. And do it every time.
      She will probably blow up in a full-on anger tantrum. If she does this, make her leave.
      Also realize that these bullies can use “anger”, which is fake anger, a tactic to put you where they want to put you. Don’t buy it.
      I’m trying to teach my daughter to realize she doesn’t have to keep explaining herself to her bully father. I think she’ll eventually get it. It takes practice, then it becomes easy, then you get to a point where you choose not to be around this toxic person. It happens naturally.

      1. Thanks Lucy, that is the conclusion I came up with, I don’t need to explain anything, for instance, one thing was that I was talking “too long” to a friend at church. Maybe because she called me twice during that time and I didn’t pick up. Good grief, that’s just looking for something to fight about. Fortunately we are usually only on the phone talking, I really don’t see her in person much so its easier to remove myself if I need to.
        I hope next time I recognize it right off, like you said, if I find myself explaining something because I am being accused, that’s the sign to turn it around and tell her she is being disrespectful. I am certain I will get much better at it.

      2. Kat, Lucy,

        Kat, Lucy gave you excellent advice and every Lucy says is true and it works.

        The fake anger, you got that right. They know what they are doing. It like Dr. Simon said it about “Position, Position, Position.

      3. Kat,

        May I ask if your daughter is grown or still in the “at home stage?”

        If you’re feeling bullied (my mother is a narc/bully, other types of a narc as well), I realized that no matter how much I tried to address the issue or set a boundary with her, she was never going to respect them (boundaries and limitations). Then I went from trying to address the issue to just trying to set a limitation on the “occurrances’ or behaviors. I had to realize that she was never going to accept any of it because she sees absolutely nothing wrong with what she’s doing-everyone else is the problem, right?

        My mother couldn’t be the problem when 2 of her 3 kids have cut off contact, right?

        It isn’t up to you to fix her.

        1. JC, Kat, BOTV

          Frankly, I believe they are un-fixable. If they won’t respect boundaries, after addressing the issue, it’s then time to set boundaries for oneself regarding the relationship. Continuing a toxic relationship feels like a dog chasing its tail, just going in circles and not accomplishing a thing. Like JC stated, they think what they are doing is ok.
          When we hear stories of parents and families who are “estranged”, I think many of the topics covered here are reasons why families are estranged from each other. One gets to a point where they choose just not to deal with the toxicity any longer, or have just barely minimal contact.

      4. Lucy,
        I so agree with you on that one. Kat you and I should NOT be attacked by our children! My kid does it to me all the time. He acts like he’s found the BEST way to live and I’m sooo stupid for believing in God. He’s always trying to SCHOOL me on life now. Yet, whenever anything has gone wrong it’s momma he calls not some new friend in the family or in his life!!!
        When he tries to bully me, such as getting rid of my network provider…I know can you imagine???
        I listen politely and then I tell him I can’t at this time as I depend on my cable for work phone and internet. Can’t just change and wonder if the wind won’t disrupt service to my sources of work.
        It’s never ending with a fighter!!!
        Ya know what’s really interesting though…when you don’t fight them they quickly lose their steam!!! LOL!!!

        1. Priscilla,

          “Ya know what’s really interesting though…when you don’t fight them they quickly lose their steam!!! LOL!!!”

          I call this “feeding the beast”. I’ve learned through this comment section to not give the CDN “food”, or argument. Cut it short and give them nothing to feed on. It works. And it gets easier and easier the more you do it. They enjoy the argument and will keep it alive as long as you keep responding to it. Hard lesson to learn . . . .

  3. Thanks JC, she is very much a grown woman. I hear you on the boundaries and not respecting them, the only thing I seek to gain is my own self respect. I pray for her but at this point I know God is the only one who can change her and as much as I desire to “fix” her, I am not that powerful. Its hard enough to change when you want to, it takes a lot of work, but when a person sees no reason, or thinks they are just fine, or even find pride in what they do, there is no hope for change.
    I normally only talk on the phone with her, I don’t see her much in person and she is moving out of state soon, so then it will only be on the phone unless I go visit. It grieves me that her narc father worked on grooming her to be his clone behind my back and I didn’t know it, training her to lie and rewarding her for it. He worked on turning her against me – he was high on the narc spectrum. I learned to forgive him for my own sake but I hate what he did, if she were truly like him cutting contact would be no problem.

    1. kat
      I’m really sorry this all happened to you. If we’d just known then what we know now.
      This comment section should heed harsh warnings to people who are dealing with narcs and disordered people, to learn of what the horrific damage these people do to families.
      These are all real stories.
      I’ve learned so much reading other’s stories, and find support knowing others understand, and have helpful advice.

      1. Lucy thank you, I agree, these is real, these people are nothing but destroyers and can do damage that is beyond repair unless the people they damaged can actively repair the damage – those that don’t see it are the unfortunate ones. I am taking a class and have identified one person in class as a possible narc, in the past I would have let her make me feel less then, now I know to stay away. I am working on myself to identify the vulnerabilities I have due to a dysfunctional past and how to grow out of them. I agree that they do horrific damage, damage that a person doesn’t need to go thru if they know how to identify these people, that is unless they are raised by them. Then there is always healing for those who unfortunately were raised by them and choose a different path.

        1. kat
          It feels good to get on track, doesn’t it, to actually identify people with traits, to realize what they may be trying to pull, and then pull away before they do their damage, as you have.
          I still don’t quite trust myself with new people. I’ve still got the vulnerabilities as well. But now that I’m aware of what to look for, it does make it easier and clearer to identify.
          The red flags are more visible now. I think another year and I’ll be in pretty good shape and not so vulnerable.

          1. Lucy,
            Yes I am so glad I found this site and you found it. I have a lot to work on and I am not saying I could easily spot them, although the one in my class was pretty obvious. But having been thru it, having read Dr. Simons books and being alert to signs gives me a lot more confidence that I won’t fall victim to these people again, and that feels great. They are around, its not uncommon so its important for people to recognize them and not have to suffer their deception and abuse.

    2. Kat,

      I hear how much you love your daughter-perhaps the hardest part is knowting you can’t fix this one. I am a nurse and I wanted to help my mother-but there is nothing I can do for her. My own powerlessness, if you will. Her happiness and her own ability to save herself is not my responsibility. Accepting that was ver difficult.

      Change is never easy. But I think about what I used to be like before a 12 step program, and it would have been even harder to stay the same as I once was. The best thing about a recovery is that everyone comes in as a king, and goes out as a servant. A narcissist isn’t going to get the spirituality of something like this-thus, change for them is unlikely.

      I have compassion for the little girl my mother was when the injury that created her narcissism happened. And I have compassion for myself. I wondered before I ended the relationship if I was going to feel a hole-like something was missing-I do miss my mother, the drama is a different story.

      Do what is right for yourself-nothing wrong with that.

      1. JC, not being able to fix it is the hardest part for sure, especially when I carry the guilt around of being the Mom that was supposed to protect my kids. I do need to forgive myself, its harder to forgive myself than someone else. I would think you would miss your mom, or the concept of a mom anyways. Just like my kids miss having a dad that was actually a dad to them. These narcs just don’t get it at all.

        1. Kat,

          Someone shared something recently with me that I am going to share with you. It feels right. It’s notes from a sermon on forgiveness.

          1. Forgiveness is a process not a one time deal.
          2. It is a choice, not a feeling.
          3. Forgiveness is about how we behave.
          4. With God’s help you can always forgive-it is possible (this includes yourself) but reconciliation is not always possible.

          With number four, that was what I had to accept. It does not mean that I haven’t forgiven my mother or that I don’t love her-I do, very much-if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have put up with the abuse for as long as I did. It just means that I couldn’t do it anymore-that is okay. Love can happen in many ways-and it is possible from a distance or without contact.

          You can have compassion for yourself too. In number 4, you also can and need to ask God for his help. I hope this helps.

          1. JC, thanks, I totally agree regarding forgiveness, that is how I forgave the ex. And sometimes I am still reminding myself to forgive when thoughts of what he did come up, or when I think of how our kids were influenced by him. He passed away a few years ago.
            I do need to apply this to myself so thanks for the reminder. I plan on doing a 12 step group as well, to work on myself.
            Just got off the phone with my daughter, its such a conumdrum, I wouldn’t choose to be around someone with her mindset, but because shes my daughter I hang in there. I can see why its impossible to defend oneself around this narcissist stuff, because they never stop. JC you are an inspiration to those who have been raised by narc parents, the fact that you can come out of it, its work but its work that is worth every bit of effort as you know. Glad you have been able to overcome and build a good life for yourself.

  4. Kat,

    Thank you. I think the reason I turned out well is twofold. First, is I have my father’s genetics. Though I was brought up mostly by my mother, and taught that he didn’t want me or want to take care of me (all evidence to the contrary but when you’re a child and being told that you believe it-I grew up believing her (whatever you want to call it). The other reason are the people who helped raise me-the family friends who stepped in where she couldn’t and provided the love an nurturing. My mother basically pawned me off on family friends, doctors and nurses. Thankfully-if it hadn’t been for their influence….

    Good for you for deciding to work a 12 step program. There are many to choose from-CoDA, etc. It is the steps that helped me to take my life back. Forgiving yourself takes time, and God’s help. And you can love your daughter from a distance-but what you do with that relationship is entirely up to you.

    Best to you in the journey through the steps.

    1. JC,
      I do think genetics plays a role too, my kids had only me since ages 8 & 10 away from the ex’s influence. I did my best to be a good role model and we were in a settled life, unlike being with the ex where we moved so much. I was hoping that they would not take on any of their Dad’s characteristics, although they thought their Dad was “cool” because he was so “unconventional”. Yeh unconventional like what he did after we left – cooking up drugs for a gang. On one hand neither is like the ex when it comes to much of the things he did and was involved in – but on the other hand both have some characteristics and especially my daughter. I think genetics may play a role with her.

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