March is Self-Assertion Month

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That is how the story goes, and today, March 1, 2000 in New York City, our weather does not exactly resemble a lion or a lamb. It is actually partly sunny, seasonably warm, and mildly windy -- all qualities reminiscent of assertive behavior and inconsistent with the behaviors of lions or lambs. Let's all share our conviction that our ability to get what we want and need does not have to resemble the vicious king of the beasts nor the meek lamb being led to the slaughter.

The central problem people have with asserting themselves is exactly akin to the lions and lambs analogy, particularly for those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families. How many of us can relate to memories of one parent threatening the family with their bullying behavior, trying to intimidate and scare everyone into compliance with their demands? What about another parent begging the bully parent to please behave, pleading with them to not lose control, get violent, or otherwise scare the family into submission?

Here is a quick and clear explanation of the differences between "lions" and "lambs":

LAMBS: Non-Assertive Behavior: People who do not stand up for their rights and allow others to trample all over them.

LIONS: Aggressive Behavior: Lions stand up for their rights, but also have no qualms about squashing others' rights.

SELF-ASSERTIVE PEOPLE: People who know how to assert themselves stand up for their rights and yet do NOT infringe on others' rights.

Lions and Lambs are Flip Sides of the Same Coin

Self-assertion is a very different phenomenon than we see in the behaviors of lions or lambs:

Lions include:

  • Bullies
  • Addicts of various substances
  • Rageaholics
  • Abusers
  • Perpetrators of violence
  • Rule Breakers
  • Bosses
  • Contemptuous people
  • Devaluing people
  • Hitters
  • Blackmailers
  • People who threaten, coerce, and make unreasonable demands.

    Lambs include:

  • People pleasers
  • Whiners
  • Beggars
  • Guilt inducers
  • Wimps
  • People who manipulate by being pathetic
  • Evaders
  • Avoiders
  • Procrastinators
  • Pleaders

    Self-assertive people do not possess the above qualities. They know how to ask for what they want and they know how to insist on their needs being met without bullying or pleading. Lambs and Lions are flip sides of the same coin because they both do not know how to assert themselves, and they both generally do not get what they want. Lambs and lions have similar fears related to the outcomes of self-assertion, and they similarly make up rules that serve to avoid their fears.


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