Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Self-Assertiveness and Personal Boundaries

Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders also struggle with this little thing called “self-assertiveness”.  Whether the anxiety is the result of the lack of assertiveness or vice versa, typically, where one is found the other is near.

It’s hard to say no.  Sometimes you feel pressure from other people to say yes, or maybe, you just want to do the right thing.  Or you feel a lot of compassion and want to help, or you feel like you “should” or “ought”.  Maybe you don’t want to be judged or let anyone down.

But saying “no” is not as negative as you think.  Sometimes, saying “no” is really just an affirmation of your prior “yes”.

I say no to diets because I already said yes to respecting my body.
I say no to too many commitments because I already said yes to taking time for myself.
I say no to working because I said yes to being a stay-at-home wife.
I say no to watching bad movies because I said yes to protecting my soul.

Get the picture?
“No” is a word.  “No” is also a complete sentence. 

When you say “no” you do not need to provide justification or explanation.  Just say no - you don’t need to tell your whole life story or why you do what you do.  For me, personally, when I would feel guilty for saying “no” (when I was less self-assertive), I would try to defend my response to appease the other person and make myself feel less guilty.  But it never worked; I always ended up feeling worse than when I started.

If people make you feel bad for saying no, that is there problem.  If they are truly your friend, or if they truly respect you as another human person, they would not treat you in such a way.

After I started practicing self-assertiveness, my friends and loved ones caught on quickly.  They respected my right to say no, and they respected my privacy as to why.

When you are first practicing more self-assertiveness, ask yourself “what do I need?” and most of the time, you will know what to do.

Being self-assertive is not always about sticking up for yourself, it is also about showing your insecurities.  I have to show my weaknesses when I have to say no.  By saying no, I am saying that I have limits, I can’t do anything and everything, and I must take care of myself and take time for rest and rejuvenation.

Being self-assertive is not about getting back at a person.  Saying no just make someone mad is not the point.  Being self-assertive is not about being above another or too good for something.  It is not this self-absorbed characteristic trait that is sometimes portrayed in movies and such.  Self-assertiveness is about respecting yourself and true humility.  It is about recognizing your limits, but also, enhancing your strengths.

I used to be so afraid of what people think of me, so I would say “yes” to every request made of me.  I was taken advantage of and disrespected.  And I wore myself out time and time again.

Being self-assertive takes practice.  If you are not used to it, you will feel guilty when you first begin to say no.  Self-assertiveness will feel weird at first.  But that is only because you are forming a new habit.  The more you practice, the more you will feel comfortable with the boundaries you are setting.

(For example: stand up to your doctor.  Medical professionals are commonly known to over-step their boundaries with their patients.  But just because its common, doesn’t mean it’s right.  They are not used to being questioned, so doctors might make you feel stupid when you inquire or disagree.  But you deserve to understand and agree with decisions concerning your health and well-being.)

As with situation, people can’t read your mind.  You have to ask for what you need.  And say “no” when you don’t need it.

All of this focus on being self-assertive and creating positive boundaries is to allow you to become less affected and become more effective.  Most of the time, you have no control over situations and occurrences.  Instead of constantly being “affected” by things you can’t control, use your self-assertiveness to be “effective”.

You have the power to overcome your anxieties.  You have the power to defend and respect yourself.  Now that you know why it is important, these tips above are the “how”.

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Check out these other H.A.N.L. posts about this topic:

If you want more, check out these other articles on PsychCentral about Boundaries:
What are Personal Boundaries and How do I get some?
Setting Solid Boundaries

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