What does it mean to be assertive?
Assertiveness simply means expressing oneself, whether that be your feelings, opinions, perspective or thoughts, in a way that is both honest and respectful to others and oneself. Assertiveness comes from a place of self-assurance and self-confidence and is different from aggression.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries can feel very confusing, and sometimes they are. In its simplest form however, boundaries are the lines and limits we set to develop healthy relationships and connections.
Author and licensed therapist, Nedra Glover Tawwab, defined boundaries as expectations and needs that help a person feel safe, comfortable and heard in their relationships. She further explains that these expectations help an individual maintain their mental and emotional wellbeing (Tawwab, 2021).
It can be beneficial to identify the different types of boundaries to help navigate them in our lives. These include (but are not limited to):
- Physical Boundaries
- Sexual Boundaries
- Emotional Boundaries
- Intellectual or Mental Boundaries
- Financial Boundaries
- Material Boundaries
- Time Boundaries
- Spiritual Boundaries
- Work Boundaries
Why assertiveness and boundary setting are important:
- When we avoid or are unable to set boundaries, we often lose the ability to recognize the impact it can have on our mental, emotional and physical well-being. Lack of boundaries can lead to (but are not limited to):
- Unhealthy attachments
- Mind/Body disconnect
- Anger and frustration
- Assertiveness and boundary setting is more than simply saying “no”. For examples:
- Leaving a work laptop or papers at work or not checking emails while on vacation.
- Taking time to yourself, either through a hobby, physical activity or simply getting some rest.
- Recognizing our expectations and limitations, i.e., setting achievable goals and asking for help.
- Implementing smaller and more frequent breaks in our schedules.
- Communicating our needs to family, friends and partners.
Boundaries can be difficult to set, and people may not always like, agree with, or understand an individual’s boundaries. The assertiveness that boundaries require may come across as aggressive or rude to another person, but boundaries are meant to be compassionate, both to ourselves and to others.
Small steps/actions to being more assertive:
- It’s okay to say no; if it feels hard to say no, practice with something small, for example: saying no to the next episode of a tv show when you need to be up early (a small boundary for sleep).
- Use more “I” language.
- Take time to assess the situation, listen, process and then respond.
- Include more positive-self talk in your day-to-day.
- If available or possible, take some time away from the situation, breathe, regulate and open the discussion.
- Recognize body language and tone of voice; for example: are we hunched or standing cross armed, is our voice elevated or harsh.
Small steps/actions to setting boundaries:
- Take time for self. This can be achieved in many small ways: reading for an hour a day, cooking a meal you like, watching an episode of your favourite show, getting an extra hour of sleep on the weekend, etc.
- Open communication and recognizing limits.
- Cleaning and organizing our space.
- Setting achievable tasks and goals, rather than long to do lists.
- Practice being direct, not confrontational. For example: “I feel unheard when I’m sharing my day with you and you go on your phone” versus “you never listen to me and you’re always on your phone”.
- Recognizing and understanding our core values – things, hobbies or habits we enjoy implementing and practicing in our lives.
- Respecting other peoples’ boundaries.
Assertiveness and boundary setting can be challenging, and can cause feelings such as guilt, stress or anxiety when first being explored and implemented. It is important to take these steps slowly and consistently, check in with yourself, a counsellor or a friend/family member you trust.
Counsellor Specialists on this topic:
- Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
- The Set Boundaries Workbook: Practical Exercises for Understanding Your Needs and Setting Healthy Limits by Nedra Glover Tawwab
- The Mountain is You by Brianna Weist
- You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy