Self-Advocacy: How Aggressive and Assertive Behaviors Differ

Julie Brock

Have you ever been around people who are loud, demanding, and just downright rude? You have probably had this experience and it is not a pleasant one. This type of behavior is considered aggressive, not assertive. It turns people off and even makes them angry.

Aggressive Behavior

Aggressive behavior means that you are trying to get your needs met without considering the rights and needs of others. It is fundamentally unfair. Aggressive behavior may actually hurt your chances of getting what you need. It may affect public attitude toward people with vision loss by making people less likely to listen and to respond positively to expressed needs. Aggressive behavior may leave others with the impression that perhaps all people with vision loss behave this way.

Assertive Behavior

Conversely, advocating for yourself assertively requires behavior that is forthright yet polite, avoiding behavior that is disrespectful and rude. Behaviors such as name calling, swearing, giving orders instead of making requests, and disparaging others are aggressive behaviors that should be avoided. Another way that aggressive behavior exhibits itself is by invading another’s personal space by standing too close or using hostile facial expressions or body movements. Assertive behavior is polite, honest and open communication that is respectful of the other person.


Your self-awareness is key to practicing assertive behavior as you navigate the various situations each day brings. If you are in doubt about the way you come across when practicing self-advocacy, you may find it helpful to consult a trusted friend for their observations on how others see you.

Example of Aggressive Behavior

You are in a restaurant for a birthday celebration. The waiter hands you a menu and you hand it back saying loudly to him, “You idiot! Don’t you know that I can’t see to read this! Get me a large print menu immediately!” A more assertive type of response might be, “I cannot see to read this menu. Do you have a large print (or braille) version that I can use? If not, can your please read the menu to me so that I can make a selection?”

Interested in applying self-advocacy? Read Knowing Your Rights. Peer Advisor Deanna Noriega also addresses Voting and Self-Advocacy.