For most of my life, I struggle with being assertive. I didn’t set boundaries with other people whatsoever. However, with the help of my therapist and my partner, I slowly and gradually shaped my own boundaries and — more importantly — learned how to communicate them. I also learned to defend them when needed. Although these things have changed my life, I still have a long way to go on that journey. It’s ultimately very difficult to become assertive when you haven’t ever been before.
Here are some of the things I have learned that I share with anyone looking to be more assertive.
1. You do not have to please people all the time.
Ever since I was a child, I always desired to please people. In time, this made me fall in the trap of a lack of boundaries with others. I got accustomed to giving people what they want, even if it was something that I did not want to do. At times I even did things that actually hurt me.
Being a people pleaser actually puts a lot of pressure on you and brings you a lot of torment. Pleasing people becomes a systematic pattern — your self-esteem depends on people praising you and your self-worth becomes tied to whether or not you’re helping others. It’s imperative you remember that it’s not your responsibility to make everyone around you happy. I recommend you reflect on how your friends and family act in relation to others: Do they break their back to accommodate you in every single situation? No. And does that make you angry? No! So why are you holding yourself to a different standard?
2. Do not feel pressure to abide by cultural or social conventions.
Over the years, I started to feel like something big was missing in my life, that I needed to do something. However, I didn’t even know where to start. Some cultures actually promote behaviors of people-pleasing and putting others entirely before yourself. So, growing up in a culture that doesn’t really condone healthy boundaries makes it difficult to put your needs first. Being assertive means being the odd one out, even “the rude person” to some people. Respectfully calling out guests who show up unannounced is frowned upon. Not answering phone calls because you do not feel like it means you are a careless person. How dare you refuse to lend someone something they asked for?
Regardless of the pressures you feel around you, don’t feel bad for being assertive. It’s ultimately in everyone’s best interest for everyone to speak up about what they need or want.
3. You do not need to divulge the information you wish to keep private.
Some people may actually guilt you for keeping things private as if you owe them that information. You are supposed to share everything about your life with everyone you care about, otherwise it means you are not that close or you’re “keeping something” from them. God forbid you travel without announcing your plans or get a new car without telling everyone. People feel entitled to know what you do with your life and they even feel like they get to have an opinion about it. From questions like “when are you getting married?” to “why aren’t you pregnant yet?” to unsolicited advice about how you choose to raise your child or how you live your life. Ultimately, it’s your life, which means you get to choose what you share with others.
My advice is simple: get closer to yourself and know your needs, then communicate them. More often than not, people will respect your boundaries if communicated. Even if they do not like the line you drew, they’ll respect the fact that you drew it.