How to Defend Your Boundaries and Be Assertive

5 min read
Bits And Splits/Shutterstock

Source: Bits And Splits/Shutterstock

A boundary is anything that marks a limit. In relationships, boundaries define where you end and another individual begins, how each of you relates to the other, and how you are connected—independence, dependence, or interdependence. Setting clear personal boundaries is key to achieving well-being and self-confidence. Boundaries set the standards for acceptable behavior from those around you, defining when they’ve crossed a line, put you down, disrespected you, or taken advantage of you. When your boundaries are unclear or misplaced, you let in all sorts of unwanted stuff. Boundary violations include things like the following:

  • Using another’s property without permission
  • Betraying trust and confidentiality
  • Making demands rather than requests
  • Treating another person in a patronizing or condescending manner
  • Manipulating others for your personal gain
  • Using aggressive (or passive-aggressive) language
  • Physical and emotional abuse

While psychological boundaries are mental constructs, they are as real as physical fences. Boundaries serve as your first line of self-defense. When we fail to set boundaries or hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. When you allow others to violate your boundaries, you give away your personal power, and this drains you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Your stress increases. You may be suffering from problematic boundaries if:

  • You feel like you are walking on eggshells.
  • You tend to do things you don’t really want to do.
  • You often feel disrespected by those close to you, such as your partner or your boss.
  • You find it challenging to speak up for yourself and express your feelings, thoughts, and needs.
  • You feel obligated to take care of others even at the expense of taking care of yourself.
  • You prefer to detach yourself from others because you are sensitive and afraid of being judged.
  • You feel a lot of guilt and believe that it’s wrong to prioritize yourself over others.

Feel Your Emotions

Uncomfortable emotions can help you understand where your boundaries are and when they have been violated. Uncomfortable feelings present you with these questions:

  • What is going wrong?
  • What must be protected?
  • What must be restored?

The answers to these questions give you an immediate and honorable way to work with your feelings. They point toward actions that will help you reset your boundaries and restore your sense of self. When your boundaries have been violated, it is important to feel your feelings and process them. If you repress them, you may allow yourself to be manipulated, taken advantage of, or victimized. “Negative feelings” contain powerful information for you, as well as protective energy. If you don’t feel enough of them, or you don’t pay attention to them, you will struggle to set boundaries and guard yourself.

Practice Assertiveness

Practicing assertiveness is an important element of boundary setting. Assertiveness is the ability to express feelings and thoughts openly and to directly defend your rights while respecting the rights of others. It is about taking care of your own needs and wants while considering the needs and wants of others. It is the ability to take responsibility without being controlling. Assertiveness is the balanced space between surrender and aggressiveness.

Assertiveness is empowering. It manifests itself in healthy communication and behavior. It aligns your position with the person you aspire to be. Assertiveness skills are especially effective during angry situations and times of conflict. When you employ assertiveness elegantly, you give power not only to yourself but also to the people you interact with, and this promotes a win-win environment. You dramatically enhance your well-being, increase value, and influence others to gain positive results.

Being assertive about what you want affirms your right to want what you want—even if there’s little chance of getting it. When you understand your right to be who you are and ask for what you need, and at the same time you are flexible in your expectations about what you will actually get, you are able to be real and authentic, and less attached to the outcome. Assertiveness builds and maintains resiliency and confidence. It is the golden path of full engagement.

Tips for Becoming Assertive

  • Aim for open, direct, and honest communication.
  • Listen to understand other people’s perspectives.
  • Value yourself and your rights as well as others’ rights.
  • Accept that you can’t control other people.
  • Know and protect your boundaries and other people’s boundaries.
  • Express your feelings and needs respectfully.
  • Communicate calmly and pay attention to your body language.

Boundaries Essential Reads

Exercise Nonviolent Communication

We humans are fundamentally social, so most conflict or anger-provoking situations involve other people. Taking virtuous action in response to anger often requires us to communicate effectively. Nonviolent communication (NVC), a method developed by Marshall Rosenberg, is a powerful way to connect with others in ways that will uphold your values and lead to the best possible outcome for everyone involved. NVC is the manifestation of assertive communication.

NVC builds on an understanding of the relationship between feelings and core needs. When our needs are being met, people feel good. When our needs are not being met, we feel bad—that is to say, we feel uncomfortable emotions. Rosenberg lays out three key principles for nonviolent communication:

  • All humans have the same universal needs.
  • Everything we do or say is an attempt to meet needs.
  • Everybody’s needs matter.

I would like to add one more:

  • We all are doing the best we can, considering our abilities, our resources, and the situation at hand.

When we allow ourselves to feel and process our emotions, understand our needs, and express them assertively, we establish healthy boundaries. We protect ourselves while approaching others with respect and compassion. People with healthy boundaries connect with others while promoting the space for making choices, independent development, participation, self-determination, privacy, and maturity. Establishing healthy boundary conditions ensures that our relationships are mutually trusting, supportive, and caring—even when we are confronted by challenges.

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