A Man’s Dilemma: Assertiveness vs. Aggression 

“How do I assert myself as a man without coming across as too forceful?” – Carl, Washington DC

In evolutionary terms, men had to be decisive and fearless because they were hunters. Aggression was key to masculinity. Men were expected to protect themselves from others who attempted to put them down or push them around. However, in our western urbanized lives, masculinity is being redefined.

Breaking down Carl’s question, I think what he is asking is: how can I be assertive without being aggressive?

Asserting yourself without aggression is particularly key in a relationship. Frequently men worry about how to listen to the smart, accomplished women in their life without feeling like they’re being walked over or they’re not holding their ground.

I would like to tell you, Carl, that the ground is moving constantly when it comes to modern masculinity. The good news is that you have opportunities to be a man in ways that are more expansive than your father and grandfather. You have the opportunity for self expression, emotional openness and self reflection that would have been considered “weak” and “feminine” in the past.

Of course, weakness has long been seen as the repudiation of the masculine. Manhood has traditionally been predicated on a sense of autonomy, on self reliance and not depending on others. But to negotiate with another person, without defaulting to an aggressive stance, you have to be willing to NOT know the answer.

So instead of using aggression to get what he wants, how does Carl assert himself? How can Carl express confidence that isn’t arrogance? Firstly, let’s define our terms.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is confidence. It is knowing what you want. But it is also a dialogue that allows for input from the other person. Assertiveness is power.

What is Aggression?

Aggression is power in order to protect myself. It creates an unyielding barrier between myself and the other person. It is a battle, which must be won.

So… What Now?

The answer is not either/or. I encourage Carl to allow himself to be influenced while maintaining groundedness, connected to others without losing himself. In psychological speak, we call this a healthy sense of differentiation.

Also, rid yourself of the burden that you have to know everything to be a leader. Asserting yourself with confidence will come from being open to others.

Carl, engage in a conversation. A conversation that allows for negotiation and doesn’t need to end with winning. Battle is about dominance. Make a decision where two people are heard and recognized. You’d be surprised how much power dialogue allows.

How have you found ways to assert yourself as a man and allow for other’s input? I would love to hear your thoughts. 

The post A Man’s Dilemma: Assertiveness vs. Aggression appeared first on Esther Perel.