Aggressive vs Assertive


It was a showdown I’ll never forget.


I was taking my daily walk around our apartment complex in Tampa, FL when I heard a loud, angry hiss that stopped me in my tracks. There in front of me was a face-off the likes of which I’d only seen in a John Wayne movie: a huge tomcat had tried to play nasty with a ferocious snapping turtle who was not in the mood to play. I watched, incredulous, as the hissing turtle (turtles hiss?) stood upright on his hind legs, (turtles can stand up?) and lunged forward, totally intimidating that tom cat who had completely misjudged its prey. The cat was assertive. The turtle was aggressive.

I found myself cheering for the turtle.


Snapping turtle is the epitome of aggressiveness


When I came home and told the story to my husband, I mentioned that I wished I could be more like that turtle; now it was his turn to be incredulous. “You ARE that turtle!” he said.

Who, me?

I’d worked hard to be more assertive… maybe too hard. Had the assertiveness I’d pursued unintentionally turned into aggression? Determined to live my life in a more balanced manner, I began to study the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. I read, took notes, wrote in my journal and even now, years later, I look over those notes every so often to see how I’m doing.

OOPS, is my most frequent comment, but occasionally, I see some progress. 


I’ve come to see that assertiveness is a response while aggressiveness tends to be more a reaction.

Assertiveness vs aggressiveness


Here’s my definition of each:



Characterized by self-confidence and boldness in expressing opinions.




Showing readiness to fight or attack.



Have you ever left a confrontation with an pit in your stomach and a feeling that you handled things poorly?

Were you too aggressive? Or, should you have been more assertive? Let me help clear up the confusion between the two:



10 characteristics of assertiveness vs. aggressiveness



If you are assertive, you think before you speak.

If you’re aggressive, you hotly defend yourself.


An assertive person asks, “Is there an issue between us?”

The aggressor lashes out or gossips about you behind your back.


The assertive person says, “I’d prefer not to do it that way.”

The aggressive person says, “I’ll do it MY way!”


Assertive lets his needs be known.

Aggressive may suffer silently, but with a loud bad attitude.


Assertive people use their brains.

Aggressive people use their brawn.


Assertive people have low blood pressure.

Aggressive people have high blood pressure (and try to keep the playing field equal by raising yours.)


Assertive people are strong.

Aggressive people are pushy.


An assertive person earns respect.

An aggressive person demands it.


Assertiveness is upheld by truth and strength.

Aggressiveness by presumption and control.


Assertive people seek to control their own emotions.

Aggressive people seek to control their world.


Up close and personal


Based on an encounter I had recently, I might actually need to work on asserting myself again, because I got hammered.


Aggressiveness in action


It really rattled me.


Crazy-makers have a way of making you think that you’re the crazy one.


I mistakenly took an invitation to lunch to be a peace offering after some unpleasant occurrences in our neighborhood. It was not that at all, but rather an opportunity for this person to tell me exactly what was wrong with me. Every time I tried to diffuse the conversation, I got hammered harder.


I’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t pretty.


I was shocked.




It’s hard to turn the other cheek when your neck is still stiff from the first punch. Click To Tweet


Afterwards, I spent the evening doing the “should-a, could-a” routine and trying to calm down.


Before bed that night, I asked a friend to pray and the next morning I woke up to a text from her with this verse from Isaiah 54:


“… no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall show to be in the wrong. This [peace, righteousness, security, triumph over opposition] is the heritage of the servants of the Lord…”  Isaiah 54:17 AMPC


The New Living Translation says, … “you will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord; their vindication will come from me. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (take that!)


I love how succinctly The Message version puts it: … no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged. When I read that translation, the childhood taunt came to mind:

“Stick and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”



Agressive words can hurt



Words do wound, though and it doesn’t matter if they’re whispered or yelled. Even though I knew in my heart that the words she spoke about me weren’t true and they were just between the two of us, it felt like they had been shouted from the housetops for all to hear.

They were loud in my spirit, heavy in my heart and weighed on my mind.

This is where the Good News really is good news: one of the benefits of what Jesus did for me on the Cross is that His name shuts the enemy’s mouth. I declare the Word over myself and the devil has to flee. I sing praises and the accusations are silenced.


THe name of Jesus shuts the enemy's mouth


I thank God today that I was prayed up before that encounter. Did I handle it perfectly? Honestly, I don’t know.

I didn’t raise my voice. I tried to be a peacemaker; to listen, to speak the truth in love. I tried to be assertive rather than match her aggressive stance.

As upsetting as it was, I know that she is a very lonely, paranoid soul. She makes me crazy and yet my heart still goes out to her.


What about you – are you assertive or aggressive?


Where do you fall in the assertive/aggressive spectrum? Do you need an assertiveness tune-up? Or maybe you need to tone down your aggressiveness.

Or maaaybe you don’t need to do anything at all.

Sometimes the Lord just wants us to stand.


Sometimes the Lord just wants us to stand. Click To Tweet


I’ll never forget the first time the Lord gave me these instructions:


“Do nothing.”


Me: umm… nothing?

I had been offended and was looking forward to spending time in prayer and in the Word to figure out how to respond. That’s what I told myself. Ha! More like, I was looking forward to aggressively asserting my stance that I was right and they were wrong.

Doing nothing turned out to be exactly what the Dr. ordered. It forced me to put the situation in the Father’s hands, which is exactly where it needed to be.

Sometimes you don't need to be assertive or aggressive. You just need to stand.

Here is what He’s teaching me:

There is NO WAY I can do any of this in my own strength.

I must aggressively seek His. I must also:


Aggressively seek peace

Assert my standing as a child of God

Aggressively pray

Assert my authority as a daughter of the King

Aggressively praise

Assertively declare God’s protection

Aggressively speak truth

Assertively love like Jesus.



Let’s pray, friends:

Jesus, we get so caught up in our little squabbles; we’re so easily offended, so quick to lose our temper, so prone to fight back. Please help those of us who need to be more assertive depend on the boldness of the Holy Spirit, not on our flesh. And when we feel threatened into an overly aggressive posture, may your Spirit help us to back down from the battle. Help us choose our battles wisely and always with the objective of peace. Teach us your ways, Lord.




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