Assertiveness and Boundaries and Confrontation

Do you find yourself saying “yes” to everything?  Wanting to always please others?  Are you worried that you will upset others if you say “no,” or that marching to the beat of your own drum will make people react negatively to you?  Do you bite off more than you can chew, for the sake of putting others’ needs ahead of your own?

If so, you may be struggling with assertiveness.

Many people are afraid to be assertive, for fear that others will become angry with them.  This is where many of us confuse being assertive with being confrontational, even though these two conditions don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Standing up for yourself and being your own advocate (assertion) is not necessarily equivalent to causing major conflict (confrontation).  Establishing healthy boundaries can help you navigate the realm of assertion and confrontation, and it’s all in how you approach and handle the issue at hand.

One way to get your point across in practicing self-assertion, is to begin with a positive statement to the individual you’re dealing with, making it known that your take on the matter is not meant to be a criticism of, or threatening towards, the other party.  Rather, you appreciate their perspective, even though you may see things a bit differently.  For example, if you disagree with your friend about the way in which she is applying for jobs, and you’re frustrated for her (and maybe with yourself for being out of ideas to help her in this endeavor), you might point out that you truly appreciate her efforts, and highlight the strengths you notice she is already employing.  You may then let her know that you think she’d benefit more by talking to a career counselor/consultant, since you’re out of ideas yourself and are frustrated as well.  In this way, you are validating her efforts to find a new job, while asserting yourself by delineating a boundary, so as to avoid your own emotional fatigue by over-helping, over-exerting, and over-compensating.

We all have insecurities, and sometimes they feed into why we have a hard time asserting ourselves.  We may then remain in a passive state.  This can happen whether you’re in a steady romantic relationship, married, or dating.  You don’t want to say no or hurt your partner’s feelings, so instead, you may find yourself apologizing for your own behavior. Or you may ignore the fact that something is wrong, and you wind up agreeing with your partner, just to avoid anticipated conflict. Remember, giving respect often garners respect.  Be proud of who you are, and stand up for yourself when necessary. By doing this, the hope is that others will hear you out, and treat you the way you want to be treated.  If this is hard for you, focusing on techniques related to improving communication skills, working on your self-esteem, and creating a healthier self-image may be helpful starting points.

Of course, practicing assertiveness is different for all of us. There are many assorted situations, lots of different people, and numerous unique circumstances.  How you practice assertion with a colleague or to your boss will likely vary.  How you practice assertion with your brother or sister, or with your mother and father will likely vary as well.  The goal in all of this, though, is to remember to pay attention to your own needs and emotions, and to not repress and/or minimize them.  Do not shortchange your own happiness out of fear of how people might react.  They may react positively, neutrally, or negatively.  In the big picture, what matters most is how you feel, as this is your life, and you are free to live it according to the terms you dictate for yourself.  Remember that you’re feeling the way you’re feeling for a reason!  Don’t ignore it:  acknowledge it, discuss it, and take healthy steps to empower yourself.

If you feel this post may be helpful to a friend or family member, I strongly encourage you to pass it along.  The more we help each other, the better for us all!


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