Boundaries and assertiveness are two sides of the same coin. With boundaries we define what's OK and not OK with us for those we're around. We also sometimes set boundaries for ourselves. Assertiveness is what we say and do to tell others about our boundaries effectively and "enforce" them as needed. Boundaries are the "what" and assertiveness is the "how".
Sarri Gilman says that our boundaries are based on our "Yes and No". When we don't recognize or respect it, we are out of touch with ourselves and we tend to have poorer relationships because we are much more unhappy with what's going on and how we're being treated.
Your "Yes and No" comes from somewhere deep inside you. It never goes away, but you can learn to ignore it or tune it out. When you do this, your life and the lives of the others around you tend to suffer. To make your boundaries with others better, you first have to listen to your "Yes and No".
Your "Yes and No" has one purpose: to take care of you. It's deeply connected to your fight or flight system. It's a part of you that knows more about what you need to feel safe and less stressed than you are consciously aware of. Ignoring it means you will not be able to do as well with others as you want. Being aware of your "Yes and No" also means you will have more capacity to respond rather than react.
If you continue to ignore your "Yes and No", you will begin to experience physical symptoms somewhere in your body. It may start with feeling tense, but it can get to the point where you experience headaches, stomach or digestive issues and even possibly autoimmune disorders or sickness. Ignoring your "Yes and No" for too long starts to make your body break down.
Ignoring your "Yes and No" can obviously also lead to arguments and angry outbursts, too.
When we haven't listened to our "Yes and No" for a long time we can experience a lot of emotions. These can range from anger (at yourself or others) to sadness and grief or anxiety and depression. This could be rather overwhelming at times, so talking it through with safe friends or a therapist can really help. Getting back in touch with yourself is definitely important enough for you to keep working on it. It will start to make your life along with those you care about better.
Some people think that setting good boundaries means that we're going to be selfish or insensitive. Setting good boundaries is always about balance and respect. Remember, we are called to treat ourselves just as well as we would treat anyone else. If you don't want to mistreat people, don't mistreat yourself. You are a person just as much as they are.
Sometimes people think setting boundaries is the same as being controlling. Being responsible for what you allow others to basically do to you is "being in control" (of yourself). You are not simply trying to make the other person do something they wouldn't or shouldn't do.
We can also try to "help" and all we really do is "enable" them. We are enabling when we are shielding people from consequences, responsibility or trying to maintain "peace at any price."
Assertiveness isn't about being liked all the time or about making sure everyone is happy. It is about standing up for your right to be treated fairly or equally.
Assertive people respect other peoples' opinions, feelings, needs and wants and do not place them above their own. Instead, they find ways to avoid infringing on other peoples' rights while asserting their own rights and looking for ways to compromise or collaborate. When you're assertive, you communicate your feelings and desires without making someone else feel that they have to give completely into you.
Aggressiveness, on the other hand, often appears angry and disagreeable. Aggressive people seldom show respect to others. The tend to put their needs and desires above others. They are quick to shout down or threaten people and even invade their personal space. These people can be so determined to express their opinions that they will make a scene to be heard.
On the other end of the spectrum is passiveness. Passive communication assumes that others will understand what you want or need, even if you don't say anything about it. Staying silent and making assumptions are typical of this style. Passive people tend to ignore or set aside their own opinions, feelings, needs and wants and have a habit of placing them below those of others. Fear and anxiety fuel passivity.
Some Benefits of Setting Boundaries
- You're more self-aware.
- You become a better friend and partner.
- You take better care of yourself.
- You're less stressed.
- You're a better communicator.
- You start trusting people more.
- You're less angry.
- You learn how to say "no."
- You end up doing things you actually want to do.
- You become a more understanding person.
(Adapted from an interview by Lindsay Holmes with Chad Buck,
10 Great Things That Happen When You Set Boundaries)
Assertiveness "Bill of Rights"
The assertiveness "Bill of Rights" comes from Manuel J. Smith's book When I Say No, I feel Guilty. It's a set of rules to remind you that you are worthy of respect. Using these rights as boundaries will allow you to figure out your needs and wants more easily and calmly. It can help reduce feelings like guilt, doubt and fear that can cause you to second-guess your decisions and actions.
Assertive Right 1
I have the right to judge my own behavior, thoughts and emotions and to take the responsibility for doing or having them and for their consequences. Others may have an impact on me, but I determine how I choose to react and deal with things. I alone have the right to judge and change my thoughts, feelings and behavior. Others may influence me, but the final choices are always mine.
Assertive Right 2
I have the right to not offer reasons or excuses to justify my behavior. I don't need to rely on others to judge whether my actions or choices are OK, proper or correct. Others may disagree, disapprove or have opinions, but I have the option to disregard them and their preferences or to work out a compromise. I may choose to respect their preferences and change my behavior or choices, or I may not. What is important is that it is my choice. Others may try to manipulate my behavior and my feelings by demanding to know my reasons or by trying to persuade me that I am wrong, but I know that I am the ultimate judge.
Assertive Right 3
I have the right to judge whether or not I'm responsible for finding solutions to other peoples' problems. I am primarily and ultimately responsible for my own psychological well-being and happiness. I may feel concern and compassion for others, but I am not responsible for and do not have the ability to create mental stability and happiness for other people. My actions may have indirectly caused other people inconvenience or problems, but it is still their responsibility to come to terms with their problems and to learn to cope on their own. If I fail to recognize this right, others may choose to manipulate my thoughts and feelings by placing the blame for their problems on me.
Assertive Right 4
I have the right to change my mind. As a human being, nothing in my life is necessarily constant or rigid. My interests and needs may well change with the passage of time. The possibility of changing my mind is normal, healthy and part of self-growth. Others may try to manipulate my choice by asking that I admit I'm wrong or by saying that I'm irresponsible, but it is never necessary for me to justify my decisions to them when I have not actually wronged or hurt them.
Assertive Right 5
I have the right to say, "I don't know."
Assertive Right 6
I have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them. To make mistakes is part of being human. Others may try to manipulate me, by trying to make me believe that my errors are unforgivable, or that I must make amends by doing something their way. I must choose to make my apologies and amends as I think is right, honorable and appropriate.
Assertive Right 7
I have the right to be independent of the approval of others. It would be unrealistic for me to expect others to approve of all my actions, regardless of their merit. If I were to assume that I required other peoples' approval before being able to cope with them effectively, I would leave myself open to manipulation. It is unlikely that I will require the approval or cooperation of others in order to survive. A relationship does not require 100 percent agreement. It is inevitable that others will be hurt or offended by my behavior at times. I am responsible to and for myself, and I can deal with periodic disapproval from others.
Assertive Right 8
I have the right to be illogical, in other peoples' opinion, in making decisions. I employ logic as a reasoning tool to assist me in making judgments. However, logic alone cannot predict what will happen in every situation. Logic is often not much help in dealing with wants, motivations and feelings. Logic generally deals with "black or white," "all or none," and "yes or no" issues. Logic and reasoning don't always work well when dealing with the gray areas of the human condition.
Assertive Right 9
I have the right to say, "I don't understand."
Assertive Right 10
I have the right to say, "I don't care."
Questions for Journaling
- On a scale from 1 to 10 how easy do you find it to say “no” when you need to? What do you think is makes it easier or harder?
- Who do you find to be the hardest to say “no” to? The easiest? Why?
- How easy is it for you to ask for what you really want or need? Do you tend to sacrifice for others and ignore or deny yourself?
- What do you think you could do this week to start being assertive and setting boundaries better?
Mary-Anne Murphy, Boundaries with Brené Brown
Live on Purpose TV, How to Develop Assertiveness
Sarri Gilman, Good Boundaries Free You (TEDxSnoIsleLibraries)
Kati Morton, Creating and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries
Sarri Gilman, Transform Your Boundaries (2014)
Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (2017)
Judy Murphy, Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others (2011)
Manuel J. Smith, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty: How to Cope, Using the Skills of Systematic Assertive Therapy (2011)
Aziz Gazipura, Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, and Feeling Guilty... And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, and Unapologetically Being Yourself (2017)
Quotes for the Week
The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none.
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.
Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.
Verses for the Week
Balancing the following 2 verses is part of what boundaries are all about. We need to carry our normal or everyday load and help others with big or overwhelming burdens.
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Each one should carry his own load.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (New Living Translation)
Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. (Good News Translation)
Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27 (cf. Leviticus 19:17, John 13:34, 15:12)
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Prayer for the Week
Help me this week to pay attention to how I say "Yes and No" to those around me. Help me love myself just as much as I do my "neighbor". Help me balance taking care of myself and helping others with love and respect for everyone, including me. Amen.