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  • Kevin Patton

Asserting Your Boundaries

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

In my last blog, we explored the value of maintaining healthy boundaries in our relationships. In this blog we're going to look at how we can do this.

To start, let's get some some things straight. Asserting your boundaries isn't about shoving your hand in someone's face - that's aggression.

Passive behaviour

Passive behaviour is not expressing your rights, feelings, opinions and needs.

  • You bottle up your own feelings

  • You give in to others

  • You see yourself as having little to contribute.

The aim of passive behaviour is to avoid conflict at all times and to please others.

There may be immediate positive effects of being passive (e.g. reduction of anxiety, avoiding guilt etc.). However, the long lasting effects may be negative (e.g. continuing loss of self-esteem, stress and anger) and may cause others to become irritated by you and develop a lack of respect for you.

Aggressive behaviour

Aggression is expressing your own rights, feelings, needs and opinions with no respect for the rights and feelings of others.

  • You express your feelings in a demanding, angry way.

  • You see your own needs as being more important than others.

  • You see others as having little to contribute.

The aim of aggression is to win, while ignoring the feelings of others.

Although the short-term effects of aggression may seem rewarding (e.g. release of tension, sense of power) the longer lasting effects are less beneficial (e.g. feeling guilty, resentment from people around you) and may cause problems for you and for those around you.

Assertive behaviour

In contrast to passive and aggressive behaviour, assertiveness is expressing your own rights, feelings, needs and opinions while maintaining respect for other people's rights, feelings, needs and opinions.

  • You recognise that you have needs that should be met otherwise you may feel undervalued, rejected, angry or sad.

  • You stand up for your own rights in a way that does not violate other people's rights.

  • You have something to contribute.

Assertion is not about winning, but is about being able to walk away feeling that you put across what you wanted to say.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is being able to express your opinions and feelings in a way that also respects the rights of others. It is a way of relating to others with a positive attitude, respecting oneself and others and believing 'I matter and so do you'.

Assertiveness isn't about being aggressive or always getting your own way. It is about standing up for yourself constructively.

Asserting yourself means:

• You can say 'Yes' when you mean 'Yes' and 'No' when you mean 'No'.

• You can communicate clearly to others what you are feeling in a calm way.

• You do not let fear of conflict stop you from speaking.

• You feel good about yourself.

• You feel entitled to be who you are and to express what you feel.

When to be assertive

What is the situation when you would need to communicate assertively?

Why would you need to be assertive?

What are the consequences of being aggressive in this situation?

What are the consequences of being passive in this situation?

Refusal Skills

Practice & Planning

These are key to successful refusal. People may mildly encourage you to do something you would rather not do, and some may even try to apply extreme pressure. What will you do to stay safe?

  • If you are pressured: What will you say?

  • Have your "script" ready. Make it short and assertive.

  • What if someone pushes you to use or to explain why you don't want to?

You do not have to offer an explanation (It's better not to!); if you wish to respond, make it brief.

A polite assertive no is all you need to say.

Your quality of life and success in achieving your goals will be improved by being able and willing to say, "No, thank you!"

Effective Refusal

• Respond rapidly (not hemming and hawing, not hesitating).

• Have good eye contact.

• Respond with a clear and firm “no” that does not leave the door open to future offers.

Tips for responding to pressurising:

• Say no first.

• Make direct eye contact.

• Ask the person to stop.

• Leave.

• Don’t leave the door open to future offers (e.g., not today).

• Remember the difference between assertive, passive, and aggressive responses


RESPECTING MYSELF for who I am and who I can be.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR MYSELF, how I feel, what I think and do.

RECOGNISING MY OWN NEEDS AND WANTS INDEPENDENTLY OF OTHERS separate from what is expected of me in particular roles, such as son, lover , father etc

MAKING CLEAR “I” STATEMENTS about how I feel and what I think

ALLOWING MYSELF TO MAKE MISTAKES recognising that sometimes I will make mistakes and that’s ok.

ALLOWING MYSELF TO ENJOY MY SUCCESSES being pleased with what I have done and sharing it with others.


BEING ABLE TO ASK FOR TIME TO THINK THINGS OVER before making decisions or choices.

BEING ABLE TO ASK FOR WHAT I WANT rather than hoping someone will notice what it is I need, and being upset if they don’t.

SETTING CLEAR BOUNDARIES about how I expect to be treated.

RECOGNISE I HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS OTHER PEOPLE this does not mean we are responsible FOR others.

RESPECTING OTHER PEOPLE and THEIR right to assert themselves, their views and opinions appropriately.

Assertiveness Strategies

“We all have a choice regarding how we react to events. Exercise your choice by ‘standing back’ and noticing how you feel before proceeding.”


  • What is the problem?

  • Why is it a problem?

  • What do you want done?

  • How does the problem look to the other person?

Your friend has arranged to meet you for a coffee, but has rung and cancelled at the last minute. This is the third time this has happened.

When would be a good time to challenge your friend?

Planning what to say

  • Describe the problem

  • Be specific and simple (“When you stare out of the window when I am talking”)

  • Describe the actions, not the motives (not “When you try to put me off by staring out of the window when I am talking to you”)

  • Avoid accusing ‘you’ statements (not “You are such an annoying person to talk to”)

  • Impact (the effect it has on you)

  • Take responsibility for your feelings (“I feel...” not “you make me feel”)

  • Be calm and specific (“I feel angry / humiliated / embarrassed” not “I feel funny / like shit”)

  • Inform (the person of the changes you would like made)

  • Be clear and direct

  • Be realistic

  • Leave room for negotiation (“How do you feel about this...?”)

  • Recognise that the other person has feelings (“I understand that you...”)

  • Incentive (what is in it for them if they agree)

  • Ensure that they will see it as a benefit

  • Offer something that you know that you can and will deliver

The model should give a paragraph with a maximum of four sentences. An example would be: “I feel upset when you look out of the window when I am talking to you. I feel like you are not listening to me. I would appreciate it if you could stop doing it. Would that be ok?”

Being Assertive

  • Deal with feedback by accepting what you feel is fair and discarding what which is not. Ignore exaggerated, judgemental and emotional feedback.

  • Its ok to say no, to take time to think it through, or to change your mind.

  • Express your views honestly and respect those of others.

Active Listening

  • Show you are actively listening in body-language and words. Check you’ve understood by reflecting back what was said, and asking open questions.

  • Ensure your body language matches what you are saying, eg you say: “I am listening” but you are looking out of the window.

  • Watch the body language of others

“A person is not always looking for an instant solution, they often just want to be heard.”

Things to avoid

  • personal attacks (“You always... you are such a...”)

  • bringing in every other argument or problem you have ever had (“This is just like when you... and another thing...”)

  • low level aggression (nagging; lecturing; stereotyping etc)

  • high level aggression (shouting; hitting; slamming doors etc)

Why are each of these a problem? What happens when you behave in this way?

Coping with non-assertive behaviour

It is worth considering how to react to someone who is not behaving assertively. Three basic strategies are:


  • Use when people are criticising / nagging / carping on

  • Agree with any truth in their arguments, but do not make any commitment

  • “That’s a good point”

  • “That’s true. I did come in late last night”

  • “You could be right. If I don’t lock the door, someone might come in and take something”

  • Make yourself a small target by not arguing, or being defensive

  • Stop fogging when they stop nagging

Broken Record

  • Use when you want to make your point without getting angry, irritated or loud

  • Often useful when you are saying no, when there is conflict, when the other person just is not hearing what you are saying

  • Make a clear statement

  • “I don’t want a drink”

  • “I can’t work this evening”

  • Then repeat this, without picking up on any counter statements

  • “But the point is...”

  • “I don’t think you heard me...”

  • “I guess I’m not being clear...”

  • “Let me say it again...”

  • Do not bring in old situations, or let conversation drift. Keep to your point without getting aggressive.

Time Out

  • Use when you are not sure of your response to a request, or when you need time to prepare yourself to answer, or if a situation gets really aggressive

  • “I think I need time to think about it. I will get back to you tomorrow morning” (and then do get back!)

  • “I think that we need time out to cool down. Let’s talk again in an hour”


  • Be clear and honest with yourself regarding your needs and motives

  • State your needs clearly and directly

  • Use open questions

  • Acknowledge the needs and statements of the other party

  • Avoid personal attacks

“Accept you will not always agree with everyone.”

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