Assertiveness is fair, principled, disciplined, fighting. And it’s the kind of just self-advocacy coupled with mindful concern for the impact on others that defines healthy character.
Mental health professionals have known for a long time that there’s a relationship between anger and depression. And that’s just one more reason why heeding the “8th Commandment” to master our anger and aggression is so important.
Anger is a widely misunderstood emotion. Some have maligned it as an evil in itself. But it’s one of our most basic emotions. Nature put it there for good reason. We become riled to mobilize ourselves into action to remove a threat to our welfare. But just as being too frequently or intensely anxious can be problematic, being chronically or excessively angry can also cause trouble.
Over the years I’ve counseled many individuals whose life became a shipwreck because they never gained mastery over their aggression. Sometimes they were overt about it. Other times, they were covert in their aggression (for manipulative purposes). Either way, they made a mess of their relationships and brought untold pain into the lives of many. For these individuals, acquiring the controls necessary to assert as opposed to aggress was truly the task of a lifetime.
Programs that employ CBT principles have a good chance of doing some good. They at least have a better chance than those programs that operate from the traditional misguided perspective that abusers are wounded, love-hungry, insecure, self-esteem-deficient individuals, out of touch with their feelings, lacking in communication skills, and who simply know no other way to cope. But even some of the better CBT-based programs have some disturbing weaknesses. That’s partly because they often focus so heavily on the person’s thinking patterns and attitudes and not directly or intensely enough on their typical behavior patterns. It’s also because the prevailing but erroneous perspective guiding their structure is that anger is always the main precipitant of aggressive behavior.
Anger is there to get us all pumped up and prompt us to take action to redress an injustice or deal with a threat to our well-being. But the kind of action we take when we’re angry is where all the trouble can come in.
Individuals with aggressive personality styles are usually already in the aggressive mode long before they ever become angry.
Beginning a relationship without a good sense of who you are, who the other person is, and the principles that you’re committed to let bind and guide you both, is almost always a recipe for disaster and heartache.
The most important thing for anyone to accept is that the disturbed character’s behaviors are his (or her) problems to address through appropriate guidance and dedicated self-correction.
In my new book, Character Disturbance, I go to great lengths to highlight the many and significant differences between most folks and people of disturbed character.