At first, I was afraid of conflict. I always assumed other people know more than me and that if we disagreed on something, they would leave me. After working with Dave, I learned to trust my opinions enough to voice them and how to stop worrying about saying something wrong. I can now be uncomfortable during conflict without being overwhelmed or waiting for it to pass or for someone else to resolve it. It’s so much more comfortable a feeling than what I’ve been living with up until now.”
Assertiveness is a crucial interpersonal skill that involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, needs, and opinions in a respectful and direct manner, while also respecting the rights and boundaries of others. It’s finding a balance between being passive (not expressing yourself) and aggressive (expressing yourself at the expense of others).
What Does Assertiveness Look Like?
- Clear Communication: Assertive individuals are able to communicate their thoughts and feelings clearly and directly. They use “I” statements to express their needs and emotions.
- Respect for Others: Assertiveness involves respecting the thoughts, feelings, and boundaries of others. It’s not about dominating or belittling others.
- Self-Advocacy: It’s about advocating for yourself and your needs. This means speaking up for what you want or need in a given situation.
- Conflict Resolution: Assertive individuals are skilled at resolving conflicts in a constructive manner. They seek compromise and win-win solutions.
- Emotional Regulation: Assertiveness requires emotional self-regulation. It’s about expressing yourself without losing control of your emotions.
What Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?
Boundaries are the psychological, emotional, and physical limits we set to protect ourselves and define our personal space. They help us maintain our individuality, self-respect, and well-being. Boundaries can be physical (personal space), emotional (communicating when something bothers you), or interpersonal (setting limits on what behavior you find acceptable).
Key aspects of boundaries include:
- Identification: Knowing your own limits and what is acceptable or unacceptable to you.
- Communication: Clearly communicating your boundaries to others. This involves using assertive communication.
- Respect: Respecting the boundaries of others. It’s a two-way street; you expect others to respect your boundaries, and you must respect theirs.
- Consistency: Maintaining your boundaries consistently, even when it’s challenging. This helps establish trust and predictability in relationships.
Why People Struggle with Assertiveness and Boundaries
- Fear of Rejection: Many people fear that asserting themselves or setting boundaries will lead to rejection or conflict. They prioritize avoiding discomfort over their own needs.
- Low Self-Esteem: People with low self-esteem may not feel worthy of asserting themselves or setting boundaries. They may fear that others won’t value their needs.
- Cultural and Gender Norms: Societal and cultural norms can discourage assertiveness, especially in certain cultures or for individuals who identify with traditionally non-assertive gender roles.
- Lack of Skill: Assertiveness is a skill that needs to be developed. Some individuals may simply not have learned how to communicate assertively.
- Avoidance of Conflict: Conflict avoidance can lead to a lack of assertiveness. People may avoid difficult conversations to keep the peace, even when it’s detrimental to them.
- People-Pleasing: Some individuals have a strong tendency to please others at their own expense. They prioritize others’ needs and feelings over their own.
- Boundary Violation in the Past: Those who have experienced boundary violations in the past may struggle to set healthy boundaries because they may not trust that they will be respected.
It’s important to note that both assertiveness and boundaries can be developed and improved through practice and self-awareness. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be a valuable resource for addressing these issues and building healthier relationships.