Passive, Assertive or Aggressive?

“People will notice the change in your attitude towards them, but they won’t notice their behavior that made you change.”

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I don’t know about you, but I have had my share of giving excuses about how I feel. I mean, the feelings belong to ME, no one else, so why should I be giving excuses? If I feel a certain way, it is because I have a reason to feel that way, probably because of a past experience kept or hidden inside my mind (subconsciously or not).

I decided to write this blog because recently I had a family member stay with me – my dad – for a week, and he thought I was being too aggressive when talking to him. That bothered me because everyone who knows me well, knows that I am a very easy going, happy, and positive person. Then, all of the sudden, my own father tells me that I am too angry, bitter and aggressive.

I wonder why he thought I was being those things…

I explained to him that he was probably confusing me being assertive with being aggressive. See, my dad is used to me being passive because that’s how I used to be when I lived in Brazil, with my family, a while back. He is used to me not disagreeing with him and swallowing my words instead of sharing my thoughts with him.

I used to be like that because, just like every child, I wanted to be accepted by my parents. As kids, we try, and try, and try again, to feel safe, loved, and accepted. We only know what’s “right” by looking at our parents’s relationship and trying to copy their actions.

In my early years, my father was very aggressive, to the point that my brothers and I were scared of him. He was always raising his voice in the house with everyone, threatening to leave my mom, calling us names, and I have lost count of how many times he actually did leave us, just to come back 2, 3, 7 days later feeling like he was the victim of the situation, giving us reasons to why he left, and making us apologize. So my mom would wake us up and tell us to get up and go hug him at 3 am (usually the time that he would come back home), to try to make him happy, etc, so that he would feel loved and would want to stay and not leave us again.

My mom was passive in their relationship, and she taught my brothers and I well about how to put our feelings aside and my dad’s feelings first, even when it wasn’t fair, in situations like the one I just mentioned. But she did it out of fear of losing him, and I can’t really blame her for that, because she was also learning who she was, who he was, and mainly, her role in their marriage and how to be a good mom and wife. She did what she could with what she had.

So while we were kids trying to feel safe and loved, we were actually the ones trying to show love to make our father feel assured that he was accepted in the family. Not the other way around as it should had been.

Since I left Brazil in 2004, so many things have happened to me, from having an emotionally and physically abusive husband, to getting a divorce 7 years later taking nothing with me, and supporting myself, by myself, with a business that was only 1 year old at the time, amongst so many other things. I had to build a strong back bone to be able to endure everything that I went through in the last 13 years of my life and start my life from nothing for the 3rd time; and yes, I did change – a lot. But today I know who I am very well, I know what I like, I know my dislikes, I know how to stand up for myself, and I know how to compromise. But I also know what I am NOT willing to compromise.

passive agressive

We all know what the meaning of the word aggressive is. Someone who is aggressive is accusing, rude, defensive and confrontational, always thinking about their personal gains, not taking into consideration other people’s feelings and/or different situations. That’s why aggressive people who live that way for a long time end up developing manipulative traits, because being manipulative is an easy way for them to get what they want… and many times they become passive-aggressive, acting like the victim of every situation, making others feel guilty for things that the actual aggressor was at fault for.

Someone who is assertive knows who they are, what they like, and opposed to passive people, they won’t allow anyone to walk over them. Assertive people take other people’s feelings into consideration but they don’t allow those feelings or words to manipulate or change who they are. Because who they are or have become is a “constant” that can only be changed with more experience; it is not a “variable” that constantly changes depending on who they are with.

That’s why the terms aggressive and assertive can be confused. Because aggressive people usually think that they are assertive, but in reality, they don’t know what the heck they want, need, nor who they are, and they act and talk as if they did, just to DEFEND their points of view and not feel erroneous depending on who they are talking to, or about. During a disagreement, aggressive people tend to react and find excuses for their actions, instead of owning their actions, and assertive people tend to learn more about themselves.

I think those are the main differences between being passive, assertive, and aggressive.

So, if for example someone gives my dog people food, and keeps on doing it after I have told them several times that I don’t like my dog being fed people food, I WILL let them know that I am not happy. If I take 1 week off from work to spend time with someone visiting me that I hadn’t seen for nearly 2 years, and that person secludes themselves with ear phones or by locking themselves in their room, I WILL let them know that I’m not happy. If all that I’m doing is taking that person where THEY want to go, I will tell them how I feel. If someone brings up to me the most painful event I had ever had to go through, for no reason whatsoever besides seeing me upset, I will ask them “WHY??”. If someone promises to do something for me and doesn’t follow through out of greed, I will ALSO call them out on it. And if someone bad mouths my brothers to me, I will, WITHOUT A DOUBT, let them know how I feel about their opinion and how they should keep it to themselves.

Is that being aggressive or assertive? Please tell me if I’m wrong, but I think it is being assertive. And, what do you think the other person is being? I believe passive-aggressive, feeling like a victim, accusing, and making up stories, because they didn’t have the outcome that they wanted, or didn’t do what they wanted, when what they really wanted was to disrespect me in different ways, push my buttons, and hurt my feelings (consciously or not).

Always-love-yourself

So my advice to you is: no matter what, do not allow ANYONE to walk over you – ESPECIALLY the people who know you well (they are the ones who should be treating you the best, not the worst!). Sometimes those people may use their “title” or “role” in your life to rule your life, disregarding your feelings, and disrespecting you as a human-being. Those people, because they know you so well, also know what can hurt you the most, and it is very easy for you to feel blamed by them for no fair reason, because you are being manipulated by someone who is passive-aggressive that can easily emotionally blackmail you, using your pain as their alibi when they accuse you.

Stand up and know who you are. And based on who you are, ACT on it. Always be open, and also be open to learn new things and feelings to build yourself UP. But don’t EVER compromise your happiness for ANYONE because in the end, you are the ONLY ONE who knows how much you value your happiness based on your past difficult experiences. So don’t allow anyone to take that away from you.

Wishing everyone a Holiday Season full of family and fun!

Much Love & Light to all,

Gabriela Brandao, CHHC.

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