One of my family members recently emailed me to ask me this question. It's a question I've been asked many times over the years. It's usually asked by people who are just beginning to assert themselves.

My family member provided the details of her particular dilemma. She is having a disagreement with a former employer who borrowed items that he hasn't returned. In response to her request to return her items, he is being difficult, harrassing and even threatening a lawsuit.

My response is this:
Congratulations on standing up for yourself and for your rights! You have a right to ask for your items back. It can be very challenging to do so when the frightened part of you may be shouting: "It's all your fault for making him mad. You're bad."

One of the reasons you may be feeling bad is because you might have been taught to be nice and not confront so it's difficult for you to assert yourself.
The other thing is, maybe you're not yet comfortable with being assertive.

Asserting yourself verbally requires practice. It also takes planning ahead what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. So you may have come across as being aggressive which may have left the other person on the defensive.

This is especially true if he's used to you behaving in a passive manner and now suddenly you've changed. He may not know how to deal with your new behavior. I also get the feeling he's attempting to frighten you. By threatening a lawsuit, he may be hoping you'll go back to being passive (about your items).

I often tell clients that behaving in an assertive manner can result in a fallout from the other side. And if you're afraid of losing that relationship, it can be a deterrent to behaving assertively. But would you prefer to be always mad at yourself because you never speak up for your needs and constantly feel disrespected and mistreated by others? Would you prefer to lose out on a relationship with yourself?

That's a choice you have to make. Personally I have found that speaking up for my needs over the years has helped me become more at peace in my life and more comfortable in my own skin. I can live with myself so much better because I don't allow others to treat me with disrespect. I now have a relationship with myself which I never had when I allowed myself to be constantly disrespected by others.

There are some questions for you to ask yourself about this particular situation. The first is, how important is it to you to have these items returned? Second, how much of your time is being consumed by this particular issue? Third, is it really worth that much of your time and energy?

Remember that becoming assertive isn't a one-situation deal. The point is to let this person know that you will no longer tolerate being disrespected. You have demonstrated that by asking to have your items returned. You have a right to those items.

It's important to state your point calmly and clearly. And if there is still resistance on his part to returning your items you might consider writing them off as bad debts if you have no desire to take this to court. Despite the outcome, keep practicing being assertive in your every day life.

I'm very proud of you for standing up for your needs and speaking up for yourself. If you want to get more practice with being assertive, I'm here for you.

Author's Bio: 

Lorna Blake is a Life Coach and Speaker. She has over 10 years experience in helping people take charge of their lives. She coaches clients on self-empowerment. Using her own personal story of overcoming obstacles she facilitates empowerment workshops and seminars. She has recently written an e-Course on Assertiveness Training and an e-book providing tips to take charge of one's life. For more info check her website at or