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The Five Styles of Avoidance of Self-Assertion
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but YOU don't have to. Lion and lamb personalities tend to fall into five unique categories of self-assertion avoidance. None of these five styles is a particularly pleasant or effective means with which to deal with other people.

Are you a lion/lamb personality? Do you find yourself unable to assert yourself in a reasonable manner? See if you can recognize the style of avoidance that YOU may fall into as we continue our discussion below.

The specific category a lion/lamb personality falls into is largely determined by a person's overall character, the nature of their trigger situations or "hot spots," and the way in which they deal with their trigger situations. The discrete styles of avoidance are learned early in life, and are often based on either the role modeling of a parent, or the techniques used for coping with one's parents employed during childhood.

Let's examine the psychologist's explanation of each style, and then see how both the lamb and the lion express themselves in all five styles of avoidance of self-assertion. Then, let's compare the lion and lamb approaches with a reasonable, straightforward, self-assertive approach.

STYLE 1: Avoidance that appeals to superego or conscience in an attempt to evoke guilt, manipulate, bully, scare, or threaten.

  • Lamb's approach:
    "You really must respond to this invitation after all the work I've done."
  • Lion's approach:
    "If you don't respond to this invitation today, you'll be sorry!"
  • Self-assertive approach:
    "I would very much like you to respond to the invitation and attend the conference." Notice how this statement is clear and direct, without resorting to threats or whines.

STYLE 2: Narcissistic exaggeration and primitive thinking, which contain black and white statements and dramatization in order to have impact.

  • Lamb's approach:
    "You're never there for me. It's impossible to get you to listen."
  • Lion's approach:
    "You're not listening! If you don't listen to me, I'll never talk to you again!"
  • Self-assertive approach:
    "I don't think you're listening to me right now. This is important. Will you please listen to what I'm saying?" Notice again how the self-assertive style is clear and direct without being exaggerated or rude.

STYLE 3: Disavowal of assertion so as to appear "nice."

  • Lamb's approach:
    "Don't you think it would be good if you sat down and maybe finished your homework?"
  • Lion's approach:
    "You're lazy and stubborn. Do your homework or I'll be forced to send you to reform school."
  • Self-assertive approach:
    "I want you to sit down, do your homework, and stay on it until it's complete and correct."

STYLE 4: Indirect and evasive style of self-assertion

  • Lamb's approach:
    "Do you think you might want to give me a refund on my purchase?"
  • Lion's approach:
    "If you don't give me my money back now, I'll come across the counter and take it myself."
  • Self-assertive approach:
    "I'd like to get a refund on my purchase of this defective product."

STYLE 5: Denial of ownership of wish for assertion

  • Lamb's approach:
    "One would think you never even want to come home."
  • Lions approach:
    "You might find the door locked next time you come home late."
  • Self-assertive approach:
    "When you come home late, I feel as if you don't care about me. Please don't do it anymore."

Whichever particular style of avoidance lambs or lions may adopt, these examples clearly show that true assertiveness is much more direct, clear, honest, and effective in getting our needs met. It is neither as evasive as the lamb nor as threatening as the lion. We may have learned how to be lions or lambs through our upbringing, but once we see that it isn't working for us anymore, we have the power to change it. Let's all make this March a month of self-assertiveness! Let us be neither lions nor lambs today.

If you would like to find out more about the difference between lions and lambs, read
March is Self-Assertion Month.

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