How to Set Boundaries and Be More Assertive

by Kathy Batesel

Healthy Boundaries Lead to More Satisfying Life

We've all had an experience where our boundaries didn't work well for us. Either we felt victimized by someone who did not recognize or respect our boundaries, or we've been accused of being manipulative and controlling by someone who felt our boundaries clashed with theirs.

It's normal to have emotional collisions when our values and expectations are different from another person's. For some people, boundary management is at the root of many problems in their life: People who don't have healthy boundaries feel more stress, have more relationship problems, and don't find their lives as rewarding as they could.

Learning to set good boundaries is a challenge, though! I've seen many misguided attempts that fail to solve problems and can actually make matters worse. For instance, when I found myself trying to establish some in my early twenties, I complained, made threats, and ended up in arguments instead!

This article is designed to help you figure out how to set boundaries, when to set them, and what you must do to enforce them.

Good boundaries can help you avoid emotional catastrophes by keeping you on the road to your personal happiness.
Good boundaries can help you avoid emotional catastrophes by keeping you on the road to your personal happiness. | Source

Be More Assertive

It's true - we train other people how to treat us. By being assertive, we can command respect and cooperation from the people we interact with in our daily lives. On the other hand, if we are passive, we feel victimized, and if we're aggressive, we manipulate and bully the people we claim to love. Boundaries are the curbs that form our roadway to inner peace and keep us on our journey. Without them, we're likely to veer off the straight and narrow and find ourselves in a jungle of trouble!


In Your Experience

How do you think other people perceive you?

  • They see me as passive or too nice.
  • They see me as aggressive, manipulative, or controlling.
  • I've never heard anyone say either of these things about me.
See results without voting

Is it Ok to Offend Others by Having Boundaries?

Confidence Building

In order to be assertive, you'll need to develop your confidence. The good news is that as you practice making and enforcing healthy, assertive boundaries, your confidence will build on its own!

If you're lacking confidence now, though, the idea of setting boundaries can feel overwhelming. You may think "But people will stop liking me!" "If I start doing this, my marriage will crumble!" You're right - some people may like you less when you start asserting yourself. Changing yourself will cause your relationships to change. But if you were happy with those people and relationships, you wouldn't have read this far!

People who value you will come to appreciate the changes you make and adapt to them. People who value what you do for them more than they value you are less likely to adapt. They'll try to sabotage your efforts and keep you in a subordinate position that lets them have more control. Only you can decide if you're willing to take this chance.

If you're want to make changes but feel overwhelmed, start using daily affirmations. Each day, stand before a mirror and affirm your strengths and goals with statements like the ones below. Don't leave the mirror until you can make yourself feel convinced!

  • I'm a loving person who deserves to be treated well.
  • I'm a good partner and I deserve a good partner.
  • I'm a child of God who is worthy of love and acceptance.

For many other examples of affirmations, check out this page. If reading a page on the Internet isn't enough to develop a habit, check out the book Affirmations: Your Passport to Happiness, which is available from Amazon:

Affirmations Your Passport to Happiness 8th edition
Affirmations Your Passport to Happiness 8th edition

This book is described as a life-changer by people who had tried affirmations before and felt like they didn't work. Don't miss this opportunity to bring positive energy and power into your life.

 

Mistakes People Make When Trying to Set Boundaries

Remember when I said boundaries are like curbs that keep you on your road to happiness? Well, when people make mistakes in setting their limits, they discover weak points in the road that bring more problems.

Avoid making these common mistakes:

  • Setting boundaries based on a situation.
  • Setting boundaries based on another person.
  • Setting boundaries without knowing how you will generally enforce them.
  • Setting boundaries without understanding what your rights are.

Your boundaries are about what YOU will and won't tolerate in your life, and should apply to everyone who comes into your path. You shouldn't accept a behavior from your spouse if you wouldn't accept it from a cashier at the local grocery store.

Let's take a deeper look at this, because I can already imagine that you're thinking, "Hey, I like it when my husband gropes me, but I'd call the cops on someone else!"

As you develop your list of boundaries, it will be helpful to use words that distinguish what is and isn't acceptable. For instance, when I completed this exercise in my twenties, I was instructed to only list things that applied universally to everyone. Instead of trying to find distinctions between actions that can be done by one person but not by another, I was forced to think long term. If my relationship didn't work out, I would at some point be sexual with someone else again, so I wrote, "I will not accept sexual abuse." This meant my need for sexual touch could be met while still protecting me from effects I did not want.

You'll need to do the same as you draft your list of boundaries. Only write down what you will not accept from anyone, ever!

If you don't follow this tip and instead make a boundary like, "I won't tolerate my spouse rolling his eyes at me," when you wouldn't make a scene if a stranger did it, then you aren't setting a boundary. Instead, you're criticizing your spouse and adding the word "boundary" to dress it up and try to make it appear okay for you to be critical.

Finally, if you make and communicate your boundaries but do not enforce them with something other than argument, you'll find that they're worthless. People will ignore them if they come to see that you won't protect what you claim is important to you. If you won't protect your interests, why should they?

Boundary Setting

Ok, let's get to the nitty gritty. You are already thinking about the things you won't accept from anyone. Now get ready to make your list, but first, write these things down first:

  • I have a right to my feelings.
  • I have a right to my beliefs.
  • I have a right to set my own priorities.
  • I have a right to honor my own values.

Next, draw a line to create two columns. One column will be "MY BOUNDARY" and the other will be "WHAT I WILL DO IF IT'S VIOLATED."

Although I made my list many years ago, it looks remarkably the same today as it did when I created it:

My Boundary
My Consequences
I won't accept verbal abuse.
I will stop participating immediately.
 
I will end the relationship if it's repeated.
I won't accept physical abuse.
I will end the relationship immediately.
I won't accept a hurtful or manipulative deception.
I will insist on amends.
 
I will trust but verify.
 
I will end the relationship.
I won't accept sexual abuse.
I will stop participating immediately.
 
I will call the police whenever appropriate.
 
I will not continue the relationship.
I won't accept being treated with disrespect.
I will demand a recantation immediately.
 
I will stop participating.
 
I will leave the relationship.
I will not accept my rights above being violated.
I will ask for them to be respected.
 
I will say no.
 
I will stop participating immediately.
 
I will leave the relationship.
Note that although I've used the word "relationship," this can apply to a friendship, acquaintance, or a relationship that is not developed!

From here, it's up to you to enforce the consequences with tactics that are appropriate for the situation. You don't have to write out, "I'll go stay with my mom for two weeks," in order to start enacting the consequence of leaving a relationship. You don't have to describe the words you'll use to say no to requests. (See the Amazon books I've included if you need help with this!)

You also don't have to be trapped into leaving forever and ever, amen. By having your consequences laid out in an amount of detail that you are comfortable with, you will be able to determine the best course of action when an event violates one of your boundaries.

More Tools for Your Journey

Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't

Learning to recognize people who will respect your boundaries will make it much easier to maintain them.

 
Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships
Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships

This book provides help for dealing with "crazy makers" who are a part of your life.

 
Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life
Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life

If your spirituality interferes with maintaining your boundaries, this book will be an invaluable resource to avoid being overly flexible. (Christian perspective.)

 

A Final Note on the Page

Your list should only take up about a page. If you find yourself filling a second page or leaking onto a third or fourth page, carefully consider whether you may be trying to control others!

On that note, there are two more things to write after you've made your list. At the bottom of your list, add these reminders to yourself:

  • I have an obligation to communicate my boundaries clearly to those who need to know.
  • I have an obligation to myself uphold these boundaries.
  • I have a duty not to violate others' rights and boundaries.

Don't worry if you find yourself making adjustments to your list or sometimes making mistakes along the way. It happens to the best of us! By keeping your boundaries clear and concise, you'll still be able to prevent yourself from straying too far into emotionally treacherous territory.

More by this Author


Comments 17 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I just wrote about this with regards to dealing with alcoholics. It is very important to set boundaries in our lives. Great points that you made.


vonda g nelson 3 years ago

Your best bet to being a complete and whole individual is to focus on those that make your life complete. Complete in areas that spell T.R.U.S.T, C.O.N.S.I.S.T.E.N.C.Y, and L.O.N.G.T.E.R.M. Boundaries usually need to come into play when individuals that you do not and should not trust are involved in your day to day life. Having to constantly set boundaries can become a strain being that you have to step into an "authoritative position" just to "keep the peace". Although everyone's space is important, it shouldn't require you wasting your energy just to keep ***your peace***. Once you realize this and exercise the positive aspects of your life with those that matter, you will naturally balance those boundaries needed to keep away all that is not needed away.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

I saw that, Billy! Your excellent hub came up the same day someone asked me about how to set boundaries, so between the two of you, it prompted this hub. :)

I shared and commented yours, and for anyone who's wondering about setting boundaries while in a relationship where alcohol plays a role, please check out Billy's article at http://billybuc.hubpages.com/hub/Alcohol-Abuse-Are...


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

Vonda, I agree that it can grow exhausting to maintain boundaries if we keep people in our lives who don't respect them. However, I think it's important to realize that we all have boundaries we do not want people to cross whether those limits are being tested or not. For people who are being tested, it's critical to do this!

Thank you for reading and commenting.


debbiepinkston profile image

debbiepinkston 3 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

I love the fact that you included the chart with the boundary and consequences. Sometimes the best consequence is to walk away or stop visiting that difficult, abusive family member, or not answer phone calls. Usually the people that we need to set boundaries with are not good at accepting our limits and sometimes we have to set "indirect" boundaries, in other words, we don't tell them we're setting a boundary but we have those limits in place. My daughter used to call her difficult family member when she was driving to work, about 5 minutes from arriving. That gave her just enough time to say Hi and make small talk, but not enough time to get into any touchy topics. "Oops, I'm at work now and have to go in. Nice talking to you! Bye!"

It worked great for her.

Thanks for helping us understand the importance of boundaries and how to go about setting them!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

Wonderful post and so helpful to those who need to hear these positive words. I can remember a day when I was very shy and could have used this advice back then. It would have saved me lots of anxiety. God bless you for sharing such a great article.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

Thank you, Teaches!


Mary Merriment profile image

Mary Merriment 3 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

Excellent article on boundaries. No matter how much I learn about setting boundaries and being assertive, I still occasionally find myself giving too much to someone and ending up taking advantage of. Once they have been across the lines though it can be difficult to push them back behind those boundaries and the consequences tend to quickly progress. I need to get in a better habit of reminding myself not to be so overly trusting and overly giving in the beginning.


debbiepinkston profile image

debbiepinkston 3 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

Mary, I have the same trouble with being too trusting and thinking everyone is nice! I'm trying to teach myself to question people's motives before doing something for them or saying "yes" to their requests. It doesn't feel good though to be distrustful of others and it's not in my nature, so it's a hard lesson to learn.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

No doubt! Establishing those boundaries in the very beginning makes it a whole lot easier to ensure they won't get crossed. When I was a graduate teaching assistant, one of the first things I was told was how I should go into my classes and be firm and unyielding at first, because if I did not, I'd never manage to stay in control of the classes I was teaching. I think it's great advice!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

Oops, Debbie! I somehow missed seeing your previous comment until just now! I apologize for the lapse.

I wondered what you meant by indirect boundaries. Your daughter's example explained perfectly, though.


debbiepinkston profile image

debbiepinkston 3 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

No problem! Yes sometimes setting a boundary directly with a person doesn't go well...usually the people who need the boundaries the most! I know it's necessary sometimes but other times it just makes matters worse. In those instances, we can simply remove ourselves, make excuses (I have been known to say "Oh I'm sorry but I have a stomach issue and I have to run to the bathroom!") or simply not answer the telephone when we know we will be abused by the person on the other end.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

I agree. Knowing when to do this and not can be a great skill. The same methods are passive-aggressive and can lead to unhappiness if overused, but they can be effective for certain types of things, too.


Esther  Strong profile image

Esther Strong 3 years ago from UK

I particularly like the first obligation - we have to remember that people are not mind readers and we have to make it clear what our boundaries are if we expect people to respect them. Voted up and more/sharing.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks so much, Esther! I tell my husband sometimes, "My crystal ball is broken. You'll have to tell me...."


Gail Meyers profile image

Gail Meyers 2 years ago from United States

This is a practical and well written hub. I am going to provide a link to it in one of my hubs as a reference for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Voted up!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 2 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, Gail, both for your kind words and for sharing it!

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