Addicts often lack assertiveness; it ties in with their poor self-esteem. But you need to be assertive to take care of yourself and get your needs met. Assertiveness is learned behavior, and many addicts never learned it.

Alberti and Emmons (Your Perfect Right, 1982) write: “Assertive behavior enables a person to act in his or her best interests, to stand up for herself or himself without undue anxiety, to express honest feelings comfortably, or to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others.” Behavior that is assertive is self-caring, considerate, courteous, and allows for negotiation.


Aggression is a poor example of assertiveness. Aggressive behavior may consider your rights, but no one else’s, and may involve being demanding, rude, inconsiderate, and selfish. It is ultimately self-defeating.

People Pleasing

At the passive end of the assertiveness spectrum is the non-assertive behavior we call people pleasing. It seems quite common among eating addicts and in codependency. People pleasing may have its roots in a desire to feel good about yourself. If you were taught to be self-sacrificing and unselfish, making others happy may help you feel OK. The problem is that you forget to care about yourself. You consider everyone else’s needs before your own.

Unfortunately, people pleasing is counterproductive. Ironically, you wind up not pleasing many people. Those who like to use you may benefit, but you don’t get much respect from them. Your self-esteem suffers. You may feel like a doormat.

Recovery means learning to care about yourself, including learning assertiveness skills. You may need support or counseling to help you do this.

Family History

Assertiveness is learned best by having assertive role models and by being reinforced for assertive behavior. Self-worth is built by learning it is OK not only to have needs but to ask that they be met and then to be validated for expressing your feelings and thoughts.

If your role models used people pleasing or aggression to get their needs met, it is not likely you learned assertive behavior.

Dysfunctional Families

Since poor self-esteem and inappropriate ways of trying to get needs met characterize dysfunctional families, it is no surprise that many addicts have a lot to learn about assertiveness.


Healthy assertiveness is vital for recovery from addiction. You have to value yourself, know how to get your needs met, and be able to negotiate with others and respect their needs also.

Assertiveness, see also: Abuse, Affirmations, Attitudes, Behavior, Character defects, Control, Defenses, Dichotomous thinking, Family, Honesty, Incest, Integrity & values, Intimacy, Inventory, Mental aspects, Perfectionism, Relationships, Slogans, Step Four, Step Five, Step Six, Step Eight, Step Ten, Survival roles, Willingness.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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