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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Micallef

The Picture of Aggression

I was driving home the other night, and decided to call my brother about a few things. As I was letting him know about our house search and how things were going in my personal life, mid-conversation, he said with a chuckle, "You're so aggressive."

It stopped me dead in my tracks.

I asked what he meant by that, hoping for clarification. He explained that I was driven, direct, and referenced me getting things handled in short order. None of these things spell aggressive to me. Assertive, maybe. Driven, sure. But aggressive? I have never seen myself that way.

I let him know that I found that word offensive, and declared myself assertive -- having decided years ago that I was no longer into pleasing everyone in my life and being walked all over.

He meant it to be acknowledgement of some sort, maybe bordering on respect?

Try as I might, I couldn't really grasp if what he was saying about me was good or bad. I decided he thought it was good, or at least neutral, and so I let it go.

Still puzzled at his choice of words, after we hung up, I stewed all evening and into today. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like a result of programing, and perhaps a newfound height of speech laziness.

To be clear, I don't think ill of my brother, nor do I think he meant to offend me, but the way the communication happened got me thinking hard about how we are trained to speak, and what words we choose to use. I have long complained about becoming reverting to pictogram as a form of communication, when the language of words we have crafted is so versatile and rich. For additional clarity, I decided to do a little searching, to see how aggression is perceived out there.

This is the first set of images that popped up when I did and image search of "aggressive" in Google. These are images I don't associate with myself, and I sincerely hope others don't either.

Then I looked up the definition of the word aggressive.

Definition of aggression

1: a forceful action or procedure (such as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master

2: the practice of making attacks or encroachments especially : unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another warned that any act of aggression could start a war

3: hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration

Then I Googled images for "assertive", and these came up. They might have resembled me when I was in the corporate world to some degree, but they don't really cover it either.

They definitely look more professional, more positive, and certainly less angry and forceful. I found it interesting that there were no photographs of people looking assertive. The best Google could muster was charts, graphs, emojis and workplace cartoons.

Then I looked up the definition of assertive, and Merriam-Webster reminded me of the fallacy of the internet.

Definition of assert (as in to assert one's self)

1: to speak or act in a manner that compels recognition especially of one's rights… she wants him to learn to assert himself with people in positions of authority.

2: to become more strongly apparent : to become clearly seen, known, or experienced

It is here that I found the description of my intention -- "to become clearly seen, known, or experienced" -- this is my heart's desire and has been since I can remember having desires. I have long felt unseen, misunderstood, and misinterpreted, and interestingly, those who I would believe know me best are the ones I am not certain know me at all.

I have spent over 30 years learning how to stand up for myself, how to say no, and how to be assertive. Interesting how a single comment could shake that foundation. At the end of the day, his opinion matters to me, probably more than it should. Clearly there's more work to do reinforcing that layer of confidence that bolsters up my ability to be assertive, as well as another conversation to be had with my brother.

I love this article about assertive women, from the perspective of an assertive woman. Give it a read, if you are so inclined.

What words have been used to describe you that you absolutely rail against?

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