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Assertion theory

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Assertion theory proposes that everyone has fundamental human rights, and can avoid violating their integrity by compromising between each other's needs in a way that leaves everyone feeling that they have been "heard". There are many different types of behaviour: passive behaviour, assertive behaviour, aggressive behaviour, manipulative behaviour, and a mixture between them all. Assertiveness can be found in verbal and non-verbal communication, throughout society. Assertive behaviour consists of making sure that one's own needs are heard and respected, rather than disregarded. Examples can include confronting an employer or partner). Not every person is assertive, though assertion theory posits that assertiveness positively contributes to one's quality of life.[1]

Assertion theory is a behavioral model for the promotion of personal rights without violating the rights of others. The theory is based on the premise that humans typically either allow their rights to become restricted (non-assertion), or intrude upon the rights of others (aggression).[2] In order to maintain the rights of all parties, assertion theory stresses that individuals recognize specific emotional, verbal, and non-verbal cues in order to maintain equality for all individuals. Such behavior is potentially applicable in many facets of human life, including workplace situations.



Also known as passivity, submissiveness entails following someone else's desires and requests without regard for one's own needs. This is colloquially referred to as "putting someone else's needs before your own", and is most common in individuals with low self-esteem[citation needed]. A submissive person can typically agree to anything, even at significant personal inconvenience. For example, if a person wants to eat pizza, and another wants to eat eggs and bacon, a submissive person might just go with the other person's idea, while an assertive person would seek a compromise that would satisfy both (which could include following one person's idea one day, and the other person's idea next time they meet). This is also in correlation with the fight-or-flight response. An submissive person would typically choose the 'flight' response and avoid confrontation, whereas an assertive person would choose the 'fight' response, and assert their own needs. This response ties in with emotions as well. Different emotions can trigger these responses. Anger can either trigger the body to clench an object forcefully (fight), or it can trigger the body to walk away from the situated area (flight).[3]


Aggression is a form of behaviour where a person asserts their own needs without taking the other person's needs into account. They might be colloquially said to "put their own needs before other people". For example, a parent asking their child why they are "always so lazy" could be considered aggressive communication, since it is not a good-faith attempt at empathic listening or problem solving, or a respectful assertion of the parent's own needs and is only designed to blame the other person rather than reach a compromise. The person on the receiving end of aggressive communication will usually respond submissively or aggressively, but may also choose to assert their own boundaries.


Assertion involves stating one's opinions or feelings, with the goal of having one's needs be heard and taken into account by others. It is a middle-ground between passivity and aggression. Assertion requires seeing one's own needs as equally important to others' needs, not less important (submission) or more important (aggression). To be assertive, a person needs to be aware of their own needs, to respectfully state their requests, and listen empathically to the other person's response. In such a scenario, both people respect their own and the other person's needs, and they can come to a compromise that satisfies each person's needs "well enough", in each participant's subjective opinion. Assertion may be done in the moment (to reach a compromise), preventatively (for example, discussing boundaries when entering an intimate relationship) or reactively (for example, letting someone know that their actions were perceived as hurtful).

Obstacles to effective assertionEdit

There are several common obstacles to effective assertion. For a person to be able to effectively assert their needs, they first need to be aware of their needs. Social anxiety and lack of mindfulness can delay or prevent assertion (for example, realizing that one's boundaries were invaded after the fact, rather than as it happened). They also need to believe that their own needs are valuable and worth asserting, which may be difficult to a person with low self-esteem. On the other hand, they also need to believe that the other person's needs are worth hearing and respecting.


Assertion correlates with emotion greatly. Depending on what emotion is expressed, the amount of assertion is given. If somebody shows a lot of excitement, then they will assert their emotion by presenting a verbal or non-verbal behaviour, such as shouting or clenching a hand. The frontal lobe of the brain controls emotion. There are some instances where the brain has a deficiency in which it cannot produce the correct emotion that correlates to the action. For example, when a child is happy, they will typically smile or laugh. However, there are some cases where the child will become aggressive with objects. The body senses that the brain is excited, and fills with too much serotonin produced, and that can cause a different reaction towards a certain emotion present.[4]

  • Basic Emotions are those that the person create to show basic responses, such as happiness, anger, or sadness.
  • Social Emotions are those that the person create to express their emotions within their mind to others how they feel, such as guilt, pride, or jealousy.[5]


Sections of the Brain

With assertion comes emotion, as well as behaviour. Two major types of behaviour are verbal behaviour and non-verbal behaviour. Throughout the life of a human, they will experience and develop these types of behaviour. Behaviour is a normal process that all humans will undergo and have to control. The frontal lobe of the brain, controls behaviour in the human body. In the frontal lobe, the hypothalamus controls judgement, emotions, self-monitoring, speech, and various other components.[6]

Verbal behaviourEdit

Assertion is mostly expressed through verbal behaviour. This can be seen in a myriad of situations. If someone is mad, they will yell. If someone is happy, their tone of their speech will rise. Location also has an influence on how a person acts verbally. At a football game, typically people are intended to scream and shout with joy, rooting for their team to win. When a player scores, the sound of the crowd cheering increases exponentially, because they are asserting excitement and thrill for the victorious performance.

Non-verbal behaviourEdit

Assertion can be exercised through non-verbal behaviour too. Non-verbal behaviour is a type of communication that uses no words or speech. This is when the person shows signs of behaviour through body movement, while experessing emotion, as discussed earlier. If a child is mad, rather than shouting out, the child might clench his/her fists tightly, or give a scolding look towards others. This is a sign that the child is asserting his/her emotions through non-verbal behaviour. Now, this also can be seen through a more cheerful demeanor. For example, if a child is opening their birthday gift, they might un-wrap the present with asserted power, opening it faster than normal, and less cautious; eager to see what is inside. Like with verbal behaviour, location is a key component when evaluating behaviour. A quiet library; for example, is a location where there is almost no verbal communication. For example, if there is a person listening to loud music in the library, some of the other people may stare at the person, or tap the person, signalling a response to the person to lower the music volume.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pagin, Peter. "Assertion". Stanford University. Retrieved October 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Assertion Theory" (PDF). December 1996. Retrieved September 10, 2016. 
  3. ^ Martin, Ben. "Fight or Flight". psychcentral. Retrieved November 15, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Assertiveness - An Introduction". skillsyouneed. Retrieved November 15, 2016. 
  5. ^ Bernett, Stephanie; Geoffrey Bird; Jorge Moll; Chris Frith; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (September 2009). "Development during Adolescence of the Neural Processing of Social Emotion". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 21 (9): 1736–50. doi:10.1162/jocn.2009.21121. PMID 18823226. Retrieved 27 November 2016. 
  6. ^ "Cognitive Skills of the Brain". Brain Injury Alliance Utah. Retrieved November 15, 2016.