Assertiveness and healthy boundaries
Many of my clients are contacting me because of depression and stress symptoms, self-esteem and self-confidence issues as well as high sensitivity. One challenge common to all these problems is the difficulty these clients experience with regard to:
- setting boundaries,
- saying their meaning and
- telling to their family and colleagues when things are not all right.
They really have difficulties with being assertive.
What is assertiveness, really?
To be assertive means to be aware of your feelings and your boundaries and to be able to express them not just to yourself but also to all those around you: your partner, your friends, your colleagues, your family, and so on.
To be assertive has nothing to do with being selfish. Not at all. It means that in a loving, kind and gentle way you express what you need and what is important for you. It is a way to honor and respect the person you are, to respect your own feelings. That does not mean that you need to be apologetic or to feel bad about yourself. It simply means that you respect yourself as much as you respect others.
To be assertive in personal relationships means that you are revealing who you truly are as a person. Otherwise you may never feel loved, as the other person does not know the real you. The only way to really feel loved is to take the risk of being yourself so you are loved, accepted and respected for who you truly are, not for who you are trying to be.
At a professional level, as well as in business and work settings it is also crucial to be able to set boundaries, to express one’s own meaning, and it can be done in a gentle, positive way, it does not mean that one needs to be tough, at all.
Assertiveness is the opposite to passivity. It means to take charge, to really do something to improve a situation and to feel better about yourself.
How can we stand up for ourselves?
When confronted with any form of danger, every living creature has a way to defend itself. This way to respond is built into every physical being to guarantee it’s survival. So it is ok to acknowledge to ourselves that we have a defense mechanism. So when someone says or does something which is inconvenient or unpleasant it is very important to acknowledge the feelings and thoughts connected to that. Some can feel the stomach muscles tighten, others become flush with anger, or embarrassment.
After you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can address the person in this way:
‘I’d like to clear some things with you’. Or/ and ‘I really care about our relationship so I need to share my feelings with you in order for us to clear them’. Look the person in the eye while talking about what happened and what you need. Don’t try to negotiate and it is very important to own your own feelings; don’t blame and don’t shame the other. Use phrases as: ‘I felt’, ‘I feel’, ‘to me’.
Do not diminish or apologies for your feelings. Keep in mind that we have the right to our feelings, even if other people don’t agree or understand them.
If the other person starts to blame or becomes defensive, the conversation will become unproductive. As long as one of you or both are blaming, nothing will get resolved.
Toxic relationships are, as the name says toxic, unhealthy. You don’t need to have such a relationship, when there are so many non-toxic potential friends and partners available. Never believe that you have to settle for an unhealthy relationship. You don’t need to.
Now a few words about boundaries
A boundary is your limit, which no-one can overstep, not even the closest person in your life.
Boundaries are ways to teach people what you will and won’t accept in a relationship. One needs to invest time and energy into it (so it requires a certain amount of work), but is it worth it!
Every relationship has issues and negotiations about boundaries. So the issue is not whether to avoid conflicts, but how you deal with a conflict, in a long term relationship.
Examples of boundaries are: personal space (body space), to be able to spend time alone, to hear words of acknowledgements and affection, your personal items to be respected and left alone.
Also, remember to respect the right to schedule your own time and make your own decisions. Don’t allow others to dictate what to do and when to do things, for you. For example, you have the right not to answer the phone or the doorbell when it rings, and to not feel obligated to immediately reply to emails and social-media post (a very relevant issue). If someone asks you to drop everything to drive them across the town, you have the right to say no.
Boundaries are a form of self-care. When you keep and work with your boundaries, by not allowing others to manipulate guilt or control you, your self-esteem and self-confidence increases. Another important thing is, that when you learn to maintain your boundaries, and say no with grace, love and firmness, everyone benefits. You also teach others to stand up for their boundaries, to learn to support themselves and to grow.
When you exercise your boundaries and learn to say no, you have more free time to devote to your passions and your priorities, and therefore more energy, more life quality. Boundaries give us all a healthier and happier mind, a higher energy level. You are no longer fixated on the thought that other people take advantage of you. The thought patterns like – being resentful, feeling like a victim, not having control over one’s life, – if left unchecked can lead to depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship issues, loneliness, and other negative results.
So keep in mind healthy boundaries, and learn to be assertive. It is worth it.
Source of inspiration: Virtue, Doreen, PhD: Assertiveness for Earth Angels: how to be loving instead of too nice, 2013