Behavior is a broad term, however; behavior in its simplest form is our style of communication. Behavior encompasses both verbal and non-verbal communication. Human behavior falls into five (5) types. There are the familiar four, passive, aggressive, assertive and passive-aggressive. Wait, I said five though. Yes, there is a fifth type of human behavior, its called the alternator and it applies to people who primarily switch between passive and aggressive, which is different to passive-aggressive. The alternator are one or the other, unlike passive-aggressive behavior, that indirectly insults you, removing ownership for the behavior.
People confuse behavior with personality. Personality we are born with, personality is related to genetics and life experience. Behavior is not personality and it is learnt, and our behavior changes throughout life based on experiences, interactions and our mood at any given time. There is no such thing as only being one type, as we in fact use all types of behavior. The more interactive your life with others, the greater the chance you use all types of behavior in a day.
The ultimate goal is to be a primarily assertive person. That means, your primary form of communication is assertive, though you will use all types depending on environment. If your primary type of communication is not assertive, then you have work to do. Even if your primary communication is assertive, we can all learn and improve. Assertiveness does not come overnight, nor in a month, it comes through constant self-evaluation of your communication on a case by case basis, ascertaining whether the communication engaged could be improved.
This page is not going to teach you how to be assertive, yet will outline what type of primary behavior you use by reading the examples. This will guide you on whether you should be working on your behavior as a priority within your life. If you want to improve your assertiveness, then you only need one text, The Assertiveness Workbook, which teaches you how to become assertive within all your relationship communications, both personal and employment based.
Mary was referred to a counsellor as she was simply run down and suffering depression and anxiety. Mary is a lawyer, maintaining a full-time job, married and has a daughter. Mary's mother relies on Mary for everything, even though she is fit and healthy and can do things for herself without impairment. She has Mary driving her to appointments, helping to clean her home, take her shopping, etc. Mary's sister, who won't do a thing or talk with Mary, only thinks Mary is chasing all their mothers money for inheritance.
Marys husband worked part-time, did little around the house, left cooking for Mary and most of the cleaning. Mary was missing out on spending time with her daughter, even though her daughter constantly demanded playtime from Mary. Her daughter required to be cared for with duties, cleaning her room, meals, clothes washed, etc. Her daughter blamed Mary for not spending any time with her to play, as all she did was work and help others.
Mary was snowed down and behind at work, felt inadequate and was hoping her partners didn't catch on that she was behind. For every client she completed, another two would hit her desk. She knew that it was coming that she could no longer hide her failure to complete her work from the firms partners. She felt like an imposter, and was just waiting to be discovered. She has been passed over for a pay rise, she was constantly criticized for forgetting about important meetings.
Marys life had become unmanageable. Marys actions to try and constantly please everyone was failing her in every area, her depression and anxiety overwhelmed her, affecting her employment, her relationships, her self-esteem and self-worth as a human being.
Dissection Of The Passive Style
The passive style is basically becoming a doormat. You can't say no, you don't make accurate decisions to manage yourself because you fear being rejected or failing others, yet this exact style leads to these end results, thus confirming your irrational beliefs to begin with.
The passive style sets yourself up to fail, then when you do fail, you have confirmed all these irrational beliefs within the process to yourself.
Advantages To Passivity
Passivity does have a time and place. For example, if out with friends at a bar and a drunk person bumps into you, spilling your drink and theirs, being heavily drunk, they blame you and are going to fight you. As a result, passivity in such a situation to accept the person is drunk from their behavior, then apologize and offer to buy them another drink to avoid a physical confrontation (aggression). This is not weakness, its an assertive method to avoid aggression by using the passive style with someone who is clearly not in a state of mind to have an assertive discussion with. For the cost of a few dollars, passivity avoided aggression.
If the person intentionally did it again looking for another drink, then passivity may not be appropriate.
Jason owns a local car dealership, employing 10 others as part of sales and support staff. Jason is a snappy dresser, confident, full of self-esteem. The problem though is that Jason's wife has given him an ultimatum, seek counseling or she is leaving him due to his aggressive behavior.
Jason was pretty dissatisfied with life. He was under constant pressure running his business, dealing with difficult suppliers, finding adequate employee's who didn't require constant supervision to do their job. As a result, Jason found himself often losing his temper at work, which came home with him as well. He would order his employee's around, micro-managing. He would shout at suppliers. His anger got that bad, he even got aggressive with some customers and removed them from his premises for being difficult.
Jason bossed his wife and kids around, ordering and demanding from them. When he wasn't yelling, he would place "no talk" time on his family, no answering anything they had to say and calling it his quiet time, completely ignoring them. Jason dismissed his wife's views and her feelings.
Jason communicated to his counselor that he knew his family was now going around him, avoiding him, doing things without consulting with him or involving him, due to his anger. He was over-protective of his children, trying to protect them too much, which was in itself aggressive and abusive to the realities of the world. To Jason, he needed control, and if he didn't have it, then he had to threaten others until he got it.
Dissection Of The Aggressive Style
The aggressive style is all about control and dominance, yet it stems due to fear. The person feels that they must control the situation, they must be right, they must win. To do that, they use aggression to feel powerful and within control of themselves by feeling in control of everyone around them.
The funniest part of the aggressive style, is that those who primarily use this style feel helpless, fearful, abused and subjected to constant unreasonable demands placed upon them. Irony?
Advantages To Aggression
Aggression has little advantage in life, though is a requirement at times. If you are being physically attacked, then aggression is quantified if used assertively to only achieve the aim, ie. to repel an attacker. Police are a perfect example of assertively using aggression; as a situation escalates, their behavior escalates based on the situation.
Alternating behavior is simply the combination of both above, being passive and aggressive. This is different to the passive-aggressive behavior style, discussed below, instead a person primarily uses both the passive and aggressive behavior and alternate constantly between them. Like hot and cold moods, its one or the other.
Alternating behavior can often be found in people with mood and personality disorders. They struggle to regulate their behavior to one type primarily, and instead are either passive or aggressive. Schizophrenics can be a good example, pleasant one minute, aggressive the next, and alternate like that all day. Obviously severity changes.
"Damn it", Shirley states, "I forgot to bring the questionnaires again." This has been going on for two weeks now, Shirley failing to bring in the questionnaires she claimed to have completed. Regardless, Shirley's behavior was beginning to state she was depressed. What was clear is that Shirley feared others, which she accepted, though her anger showed, which she couldn't admit to.
Shirley was in her 30's and worked in a Government office. The floor was all open cubicles, and office politics and gossip was prevalent at all times. Shirley dwelt on the office politics, from who was being promoted, who got the cubicle or office with a view, every piece of gossip.
During counseling, Shirley smiled when discussing office politics, admitting to deceptive maneuvering behind her supervisors and colleagues back. When asked if she has ever raised her issues or concerns with her supervisors, she had not done so. She claimed it was better to do things "behind the scenes" to achieve her purpose.
Basically, Shirley was ignoring some tasks, others she was doing poorly, knowing she wouldn't get picked to do them again, and some she would sneakily palm off to co-workers, getting them to do it and claim it as her own. The only problem with all this behavior, was that Shirley was consistently passed over for promotion, even though she had near the most knowledge about the organizations inner workings. She was emotionally close with nobody, and slighted anyone who would show resentment towards her.
Her private life was no different. She was single since a divorce years earlier, feared rejection so she didn't date, and even though one of her best traits was making others laugh, she used it to keep people at arms length. Shirley had no friends as a result.
Shirley simply feared facing people, she feared confrontation even when she knew she was right, or felt attacked, and instead she would bottle up her emotion and get them back when the time was right, where she could not be held accountable.
Dissection Of The Passive-Aggressive Style
The passive-aggressive style is all about harboring and bottling your emotions, the person is usually full of anger, yet will mask it with a smile, then when your back is turned, somehow find a way to insult you or create concern for you, without directly being able to be identified and held accountable. Right from the start, Shirley never intended to return the questionnaires she was asked to fill-out, and instead made excuse after excuse to not return them. She passively rebelled, and failed to own what she was doing by claiming she continued to forget.
Undermining co-workers to a supervisor, or vice versa, not finding time to do a favor you promised, routinely showing up late for appointments, developing a headache just prior to an event, doing something poorly to get out of it in the future, these are all examples of passive aggressive behaviors.
Advantages To Passive-Aggression
There are no advantages to being passive-aggressive. If you want to be rude in a non-threatening manner, and if you believe that is acceptable, then sure, you found a negative advantage which you believe appropriate. We all do this at times in our life, but there are no advantages to passive-aggressive behavior.
Assertiveness is simply, none of the above. Assertiveness is not a strategy to get your own way, it is a behavior where all persons desires are respected. Assertiveness is deciding for yourself, owning your decisions, and accepting this exact right that you have, so does everyone else. Assertiveness allows us to acknowledge our own thoughts and wishes honestly, without the expectation others will give into us. You respect their feelings and opinions are just as valid as your feelings and opinions.
Assertiveness includes expressing your preferences for the behavior of others, however; that is where it stops. You acknowledge that their responsible for their behavior, and you then decide whether to communicate further with that person or not, as that is your assertive right.
Assertiveness is the most difficult behavior to learn of all behavior types. People raised within assertive environments will often be primarily assertive, though that is not always the case. Assertiveness takes constant practice, it is a process of change over years of constant self evaluation. Assertiveness provides the optimal level of self esteem, combined with the least negative stress consumed.
- Paterson, 2000, The Assertiveness Workbook - How To Express Your Ideas And Stand-Up For Yourself At Work And In Relationships
- David, Eshelman, McKay, 2008, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook: 6th Edition
- Wood, 2010, The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook For Personality Disorders
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