Setting Boundaries Appropriately: Assertiveness Training (Continued)

Assertiveness training is all about helping people to know that there really are situations where they have a perfect right to defend themselves from bullying attempts made by others. Once people realize that it is okay, and even proper for them to stand up for themselves; to allow themselves to feel angry when they are taken advantage of, they tend to find that actually defending themselves is not so hard. Assertive behavior basically consists of the following steps:

  • realizing that you have been dominated, or taken advantage of
  • feeling the angry feelings (directed towards the dominating partner, and/or to yourself for allowing yourself to be dominated
  • deciding to act to put a stop to the domination
  • acting on your conviction (which involves finding a way to demand your rights be respected, while also being polite and civil about it so as not to become aggressive yourself)
  • waiting for your dominating relationship partner to escalate his or her bad behavior, so as to put you back in line and force you to submit again and then
  • resisting the urge to submit again in the face of escalation.

There is a certain inertia to how people relate to one another in relationships. A dominant partner is used to getting his or her way, and a submissive passive partner is used to giving the dominant partner his or her way. This pattern feels normal to both partners and any change will leave both partners feeling unsettled. Expect to feel weird when you decide to become assertive and change the pattern, and also expect that your partner will feel weird too and will generally be motivated to act so as to reassert the old comfortable pattern. Because the normal amount of domination is no longer working, most dominant partners will "up the ante" and try coming on stronger so as to try to power you into submission. Don't fall for this. If you can stand your ground for a while, both of you will get used to the new pattern of you being assertive.

Most of the time it is healthy and useful to assert yourself. However, you should be aware that there are some situations where attempting to assert yourself can get you harmed or killed. In order for assertion to work to change relationships, both partners have to be reasonable people at some level, and to minimally respect one another. Some abusive partners do not operate this way, and will not stop escalating their violent behavior in response to assertion until the newly assertive partner is dead. If you are in a relationship with this sort of abusive person, you are better off simply leaving the relationship outright rather than trying to change it. Use community resources (such as family, domestic violence shelters, court issued restraining orders and reporting to the police when incidents occur) to help protect yourself. Read more about abuse here.

Assertiveness training is not just for passive-acting people; it is also of great use to people who are habitually aggressive towards others, but only as a component of a larger program of Anger Management. Passive-oriented people generally feel badly about their passive position; they are motivated to make changes and happy when they realize that they have a right to do so. In contrast, angry or bossy aggression-oriented people tend to be happy with their dominant position in relationships, even if they are not happy people in general. Aggressive and dominating tactics work for them (or so they think) and they are seldom motivated to change on their own. Assertiveness training makes intuitive (if frightening) sense to passive-oriented people; it seems to have little to offer to aggressive types. Therefore, assertiveness training must be supplemented with other interventions (and often serious consequences) if it is to get through to the aggressive person.

Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    I don't ever want to risk getting into a fight, including being confrontational with someone. If I ever get into a fight, even in self-defense I'll probably get charged with something. Jail was a horrible memory for me and I have recurring nightmares about it. Assertiveness is not worth it. People like me are screwed, we lose whether we take the left path or the right path.

  • nikki

    it is real hard to set boundaries some times i think i dont even know how untill after the fact when i know the other person is toxic and i get in to troubel ,like go to jail cause i know i should not be around him i get of into a black out and do what ever and end up in hospitals or jail and i know one time my luck will turn on me and i will die and god forbid that happens i dont want to keep putting my family threw this

  • Philip

    Your remarks on aggression, passivity and assertion were really helpful. I have been in many abusive relationships and currently I'm struggling with someone who seems to have recognised the pattern and tried to capitalise on it. I hate fighting and I refuse to do it. The aggressor in this case is so used to the pattern that she isn't fully aware. For example, she knows that she always gets her way. Her relatives call her "scary" (but she's just obnoxious). Most of her strategies are subliminal: for example, one strategy is creating chaos as a smoke screen and then everyone has to wait for her to make a decision. This chaos is both a strategy and an affliction, however. The pernicious thing for her is people avoid her. She can not hear anyone. This creates stress for her because she doesn't know what people are thinking. Even I was thinking of abandoning ship, but thanks to your article, several new ways of dealing with this present themselves.

  • Anonymous-2

    Thanks for the article. It is a great idea and i shall have it a go on it to save my relationship. My relationship is complicated and i feel tangled up, like a cat in strings. I desperately want to leave but i am afraid of fights and loneliness. It sucks to be in this. I feel i have submit to every wishes he wants. I put aside all my dreams and my free time but no gratitude is given. He is abusive in his words, but i on the other hand have to pick my words carefully or a world war will start. I shall try to be assertive. thank you

  • Anonymous-3

    As someone who left a marriage with a partner who sounds like yours, I want to encourage you. You need to do more than be assertive. When he yells at you, don't fight back. Get up and leave the room. If he follows you, get in the car and drive away. Be gone for awhile. Don't explain yourself when you come back. If he does it again, you leave again. Do it every time. No amount of conversation, fighting, defending yourself is going to change things. Only consequences. For him it is a game. For you it is a nightmare. If you want to stay in this relationship, you must require that he conform to certain behaviors not through words--through consequences. If he won't stop abusing you verbally, require that he leave for several months and see you only by dating.

    Although I dated this man for two years before I married him, as soon as we married he changed his behavior and began dominating. For me, it wasn't worth staying, although all the effort it takes might be worth it to someone who already has a family with such a person. I snuck away because I didn't want anymore fighting, I didn't want him to hurt my children from my first husband who died. I owned the house, but I found a way to get him to sell it in return for tax deductions. And I was lonely, but not for him. The only way to get a healthy relationship is to sacrifice the rotten one you are in, either by leaving it or putting everything on the line to change it. It does cause anxiety and stress for awhile, but it settles down. It took a year to complete finanacial issues and get a divorce, but six months after that I began dating a gentle, thoughtful, wonderful man. It took a year and a half for me to trust my own decisionmaking, but I finally go the nerve to marry him. Sometimes you have to go a little lower to ultimately reach higher. The loneliness is worth it. I enourage you to let go. What you are holding on to so tightly really isn't worth much, at least not in the state it is in.

  • Anonymous-4

    Being an Indian and having come from a country and culture, which considers retorting a taboo, I have been taken to my boss' advantage when I expressed my desire to pursue my career in my line of interest by quitting the current job.It was a storming session of bullying, sarcasm and an intense attempt to create dissonance in my decision. Though I have been assertive through out clearly and openly communicating the reasons, for my decision, I had given enough and more of my personal space to be invaded. This has left me in bad taste for last few days and I have been in dilemma unable to decide which way to take - Passive or Aggressive?

    This reading helped me get insights into nuances of assertiveness and now I feel I have more ways to work towards handling this situation, when someone intensifies their stand as an aggressive partner.

  • Anonymous-5

    I have put up with so much crap all my life, I'm so tired of it all, I want to die. I've had it and I'm sick of human beings and their selfishness. I hate the way my neighbors treat me, by terrorizing me and my family with cutting my fence down cutting my bushes and opening me to the other neighbor who lets his 3 dogs run loose and bark and growl at me in my own yard and near my own cars. I fear being bit, and I feel anxious everytime I leave or come home. The dogs chase after the car and bark at me all the time. My husband has left me after 37 years of marriage, I work at a low paying job and now have a weaker insurance co. I was a stay at home mom and only worked little pieces of jobs and never got a career. I tried church, choir, even extra singing. I live off my daughters income to keep the house my parents gave me when they both died. I'm tired all the time, I have health conditions and many, many reactions to : chemicals, foods, perfumes, medicines. I can.t talk to anyone, anymore because NO ONE LISTENS TO ME ANYMORE! The doctors treat me with disgust and say we can't help you. I often want to just die and get the hell out of everyone's life. I don't need to be here anymore. What good am I ! I can't help my daughter's life she is more messed up in some ways then Iam, how very sad! Every time I get alittle ahead financially, the sewer bill goes up the electric goes up, the gas prices goes up, my property taxes goes up, my health gets worse. I can only use certain kinds of products free of scents, chemicals, or softeners. IBS, reflux, sleep apnea, I live in a very tight box. I'm not an idoit, I'm talented but I get sick and tired of people,people, people. I try to be patient, listen to them, I try to be pleasant and kind. But when its my turn my feelings are stronger and louder than theirs and their complaning?

  • Anonymous-6

    I have been in a situation where my husbands teenage son and all of his friends would spend the night playing loud music, shrieking, yelling, pushing, roughhousing and making a huge mess untill finaly falling asleep around 4 or 5 am (sometimes even later) This would go on every weekend he would come to visit.

  • Anonymous-7

    Thank you for this fantastic article. It helps clarify what steps I can take to become more assertive.

    I am a more passive partner and my wife is more aggressive. It seems to me that aggression is closely tied to manipulation that takes place by my aggressive partner. And that this manipulation is subconscious - perhaps learned during her upbringing. Like others who have written, after something painful is said at home I either: 1) say nothing because its easier (I know this is cowardly and passive), or 2) try to assert myself, sometimes resulting in a 'war of words' and feelings of manipulation. It feels like this is a cycle that will be impossible to break.

    How does one in a more passive disposition (working to become assertive) help their partner realize the difference between aggression and assertiveness (especially if the aggressive partner is resistant to counseling)?

  • Anonymous-8

    I have been through so many dead end relationships, that always seem to have different faces but end in the same situation. My family and friends try to side with me which only pacified the situations. Well, after being in this new relationship which has been going on for 1 yr. and 5 mths., I have come to realize that after a constant cycle of breakups and make ups due to me not getting my way, that I am the aggressor. I have let alot of men use me and manipulate me that whenever a good one came around I tried to dominate them. Although none of my past partners left me willingly, but I would find myself calling the police on them after I pushed them to the edge of domestic violence. We're talking about men who may have never put their hands on a woman before, but when they get with me "Miss Domineering", it all end up with me pressing and dropping charges as an exit out of the relationship which becomes boring to me after buttons has been pushed. Now the tables are turning, my current relationship is on edge and I finally decided to seek self-help since I was diagnosed as normal in the past. I know I have a problem now because I am about to lose a good man if I don't get it together. My jealousy and insecurity leads to aggression which causes my partner to run back home to mommy, and that within itself causes pain. I love my partner and I am so glad I ran across this training, because I can start to heal through my recognition of aggressive behavior.

  • Kolette

    This article is terrific - I wish I'd found out

    I grew up with a violent and abusive father who held me physically and then financially captive until I was twenty years old. As a child and teenager, I had a very assertive nature, but after getting beaten up enough for standing up to him, I stuffed it and became a mouse. At 24, I married a man who I had dated for a few years, who I loved dearly and who seemed to be a very passive and gentle person. After we married, he gave full vent to a cruel, violent side that I had only seen small parts of and dismissed as "not as bad as I grew up around". Believe it or not, he is a reasonable man, who had observed how to be an jerk from his father and then chose to use our relationship as an experiment in domineering his "trapped" partner. Not having stood up to him, or anyone, in years, I became depressed to the point of being suicidal. However, within six months enough rage built up in me from feeling that instead of getting a caring husband, I'd been tricked into marrying my "father", that I reached back into my childhood and pulled all of the anger and assertiveness that I had dropped in fear of being abandoned. I lost my fear of losing someone who didn't seem concerned with losing me, and demanded respect and inclusion at least on a level that would allow the relationship to function fairly. He responded by trying to manipulate me back into subordination. So I told him if he didn't get counseling and learn some real respect immediately, he'd never see me again. When I walked out and for a month stayed away, not telling him where I was, he realized that I was dead serious, and that rather than controlling me, he'd made me start to hate him enough to completely cut ties with him. A lot of people, even my family, judged me for walking out, and that hurt deeply - no one seemed to understand my decision. But I was more afraid of what would happen to me if I didn't free myself. Then he made a choice I hadn't expected and got himself together. After a few months, instead of divorce, I gave him another chance to get back my respect. He's done some pretty heavy work, and while we're not a model couple, we're already starting to be able to "look back" on some of the crap that went down. I guess I'm one of the fortunate ones, but forcing the change was really worth it, for me and, apparently, for him, too.

  • Jaye

    I grew up with a father who never allowed me to express my feelings. He yelled at me and never praised me for any accomplishments. I buried my resentment and took it all out on my boyfriends..who all left me because of it. I was taught assertiveness was not feminine and never understood how to function in a relationship. I finally hit bottom when my current boyfriend gave me a million chances and I still was unable to figure out how to express myself without getting hostile. I finallly found a counselor I clicked with and gave me Cognitive Therapy tools and books to work on. Now I can identify my "automatic thoughts" and finally change my behavior. I have also let go of the past and live consciously in the now. It took a long time..but I am finally living a happy life. Keep at it!

  • aunt dina

    Hi, that was a good story and hopeful for me. Can you share the names of the books you are using? aunt dina

  • Anonymous-9

    hi there

    I am a fresh graduate and working in a firm since two months.

    One of my collegues always bullies me by making jokes about my physical appearance which I took sportively initially.

    But he did not stop making those and others have started joining him. Once I answered him back and since then no one is interacting with me. I am feeling isolated.

    What should I do?

  • peri

    My question is that

    İs here any source for assertive which 10 14 ages

    What is the assertive the student who attens boarding school

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH

  • Bailey

    I just finished my freshman year in college. I know that this part of my life is sort of a transitional phase and for most people it tends to be stressful and confusing. I have a lot going for me- I’m very popular among people, intelligent, good looking, etc. However there are a few problems that I believe are the causes of me not reaching my full potential grade, happiness and fulfillment-wise. I have huge difficulty saying no to people and am extremely indecisive-I generally have other people make decisions for me.
    Previous to sophomore year in high school, I was what I would consider successful-reaching my full potential. I really applied myself, had my own jewelry business, involved in school- 3.8 GPA, popular but no really close friends. It started falling apart when started forming closer friendships with people because those people were aggressive, they were the 'partiers' of the school. I stayed involved in sports, and grades slipped to a 3.2 GPA. Junior year of high school I started dating my boyfriend that lasted two years- We broke up soon after I went to college away from my hometown when he refused to step foot on campus because he wanted me to stay home with him. He was definitely the dominant one and I was passive- he would sit and wait for me to get home when I went out and wouldn’t let me talk to other boys.
    This past year in college, I felt really helpless, I no longer had structure to my life. I did really good academically first semester and second semester I ended up getting poor grades, even though I felt like I was studying all the time. I felt like everyone else was able to juggle their homework and social life but I wasn't. I went out on average two nights a week. This was mostly due to me literally not being able to say no to my friends. One in particular would always say, "Bailey, on Monday you promised me you’d come out with me. Seriously, live a little-you’ve been doing homework all week." At the end of the year I got tested extensively to find if I had personality issues- no. Intelligence issues-no, my IQ was 115 which is above average, but my scores for math and reading were 19 points lower than what they should be according to my IQ. So, in other words I have a 18 volt battery and I am putting out about 12 volts. I have a ton of friends and am great with people but I feel like I have lost control of my life. I know I have potential and know that when I look back on life, I want to have really made a difference in the world and not just have made money for my own good. I feel like I am not doing this at this point. I am not trying to get pity because I am fortunate for all the good things I have in my life but I feel like im just stuck in this cycle of having poor 'party' friends and poor relationships with men. Most guys just want to have sex- I know this is the culture of most college campuses but its not what I want or believe in. Before my boyfriend of two years in high school, I had promised myself to remain a virgin until marriage because I knew I wasn't emotionally ready for that kind of activity. But, I gave into his pressure and since breaking up with him, have been almost at the point to helplessness because I find myself not able to say no to any guy who is forceful about having sex. I arrived home to find out that one of my 'best friends' who always told me what a bad boyfriend I had and wanted me to end the relationship had hooked up with my ex along with my ex attempting to hook up with four of my other friends. I feel like Im just caught up in a web of bad things, I think that learning to be assertive may assist me in getting out of this, does anyone have any input/suggestions?

  • Anonymous-10

    I feel very guilty and angry for letting my army retired, rigid sister have anything to do with my life. She has totally screwed things up for me, although I know she was trying to help, it bothers me now because I can see where I didn't stand up for myself. She is so pushy that it is disturbing. She is very aggressive and thinks she knows everything. I love her, but cannot deal with her. I am passive and want everyone to get along. It's too late to change the end results, but now I am having to deal with the aftermath of her decisions.

  • Anonymous-11

    Here's my two cents, being a recovering, and almost completely recovered "emotionally disturbed sensitive wuss." Maybe you had smothering, overcontrolling, cold parents. Maybe you had abusive parents. Maybe you just have a personality that is avoidant of conflict...who knows. As you discover your own unique mind and background, you'll start to piece everything together. Be patient. Work in progressive steps. Keep a sense of humor and be brave with some feelings and thoughts that resurface, that were buried deep inside. There will be ups and downs, change will NOT happen overnight, but some days significant improvements will be made. Don't be afraid to reframe things in a more positive light. It doesn't mean you are denying reality, you're just viewing reality from a less one track, biased lens.

    What I've found to be the easiest technique in asserting yourself, while also not alienating yourself is...

    Well let me start with this. Here's the most common misconception, cognitive distortion, whatever you wanna call it, that people have in regard to their interactions with others. You assume, because you had parents or people in your life that were very intrusive of your boundaries, that people CARE about your feelings. Now, the word "care" here should not be positively connotated, meaning you can care about someone you hate, in fact, indifference is a stronger weapon than violence, aggression, hate, or disdain(I'll get to this more later.) C'mon, we all knew the bully when we were younger who terrorized kids was secretly jealous, hiding secret feelings and shame, etc. If you punch someone because they hurt your feelings, in some way you let them into your feelings, you took it personal.

    Still following me? Well, here's the deal. People would consider us sensitive, perhaps emotionally unsettled in our reactions toward others. There is truth to this, but only in their perceptions.

    Look, you want a shortcut, I'll let you in on a little secret. Start rejecting peoples' feelings, when they speak to you, in normal conversations, in every day life. This might sound really cold on the surface, but just happens to be the reality of most situations in every day life. For one thing, people will allow you into their feelings only if they want to. It might seem to make sense that if you want to try really hard to get someone to like you, you must really dig deep into their personal psyche and figure out what emotional needs they have. This makes perfect sense to us, because we may have emotional needs that aren't being fulfilled or haven't been fulfilled. It's like the person who badly wants to be taken care of, so they keep on taking care of other people, thinking to themselves, they'll repay me for this one day...I'm paying my dues. This isn't the case. For one thing, people in general HATE when other people do something for them with the obvious notion of getting something in return.

    I now want you to go back...far back...to high school, no even farther, to elementary school. You're in 5th grade. There's the "cool" group. You try so hard to fit in with them. You examine them, what they eat, what they wear, what they say, all the while feeling lonely and isolated. Perhaps you find out one of them loves baseball...you give one of them a baseball cap, you bring them their favorite lunch, you try and you try, and still, they treat you like an outcast, shun you, reject you, in some cases even mock you. Rather than feel the same of rejection, you worry. You distort persistance with courage and begin worrying day and night as to how you can "fit in." You even begin doing things that you never thought you would do. You lose yourself and your identity.

    Well, if you would have allowed yourself to just feel the shame...to really soak it in and reflect, to accept the situation, what you'd realize is that you're bumping your head into a brick wall over and over again expecting a different result. This is what leads to a host of unhealthy behaviors and cognitive distortions over one's life.

    What is the answer? It's easy. Amazingly frigging simple and it was right in front of your face and you missed it. You keep missing it. The "cool" kids never really cared about what you could do for them. You could have given them money and they still would have just used you and spit you out. But what they DID want from you is to reject you. Every time you smacked your head into a brick wall, bent over backwards and stressed out over them, they won, because they just easily shunned you out.

    REJECT THEM. REJECT YOUR PARENTS. REJECT EVERYTHING. If you're not sure what rejection feels like, try to picture someone running to another person, excited with perhaps a new discovery, something that could help the universe achieve world peace, and then the other person putting their hand up at that person and rejecting them. That's sort of like the ultimate rejection. Anyway, do that. If you can't do that, it means you have a problem with A. letting go, B. saying no, and C. you probably have dependence and attatchment issues, which means you probably need to work on becoming accepting your independence. Confidence comes from the acceptance of yourself alone, without the help of others. When you do work with others, don't think of it as submitting to their demands and giving up yourself. Think of it as learning to compromise in order to meet a goal that one cannot achieve alone.

    Good luck, and be brave throughout all of this. By the way, relieving stress and tension is the first step to becoming mentally and emotionally healthy.

    By the way i'm 22 and have no psychology or therapy training at all, so maybe just forget everything I said...But it worked for me.

  • laura

    how do i help my friend? she has been dating a guy on and off for ages they break up and get back together all the time . each time she tries something new at first she never fought back and she would be in tears all the time while her boyfriend ran around town cheating on her. she has had quite a lot of bad things happen to her since she was a little girl. she finds it hard to trust people because at different stages in her life the people she has trusted have hurt her some very intentional situations and some just accidents. she loves the guy she is seeing but she cannot trust him for reason that she will not explain even to her closest friends. the last two times they have gotten back together she has been a lot more aggrressive and assertive as uposed to being submissive but that doesn't work eighter. what advice can anyone give to her.