Setting Boundaries and Assertiveness

Relationships, Communication, Strength, Feelings
Curated By
Keiko McCullough

Keiko McCullough is a doctoral student at Indiana University Bloomington studying Counseling Psychology. Keiko graduated summa cum laude from the University of Akron with her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2015. Her research interests, broadly, focus on the intersections of race, gender, and new media. She additionally studies men of color and masculinities, Asian American mental health, positive psychology, and feminist issues.

They Might Be Thinking:

  • I feel like others won’t like me if I assert myself.
  • I need to be there for everyone, even if I’m uncomfortable or stretching myself too thin.
  • Sometimes, it feels impossible to fix a situation or change how I interact with others. 
  • People will think I am greedy/selfish/lazy if I express how I really feel. 
  • I don’t deserve to tell other people what I need from them. 
  • Even if I do have the courage to say what I am really thinking, it won’t be received well. 
  • I don’t want to let other people down. 
  • I will be a bad [friend/partner/sibling/child] if I don’t do X, Y, and Z. 
  • I get really anxious when I think about asserting myself, and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. 
  • Learning how to assert myself seems like it will come with a monstrous and uncomfortable learning curve. 
  • I don’t want others to misunderstand what I am saying when I tell them how I really feel. 

Words That Might Be Encouraging:

  • It can definitely be challenging to assert yourself with others. (If you’ve also struggled with this in the past, you can share that experience.)
  • Thank you for talking about this with me. If you ever feel like there is something you need to express in our relationship, please know that I very much appreciate your perspective and would be receptive to your feedback.  
  • It can be difficult to navigate your feelings and try to anticipate what others might be feeling, too. I can see that you are really concerned about other people's feelings, which is a strength of yours. 
  • I can see that you’re worried about being seen as greedy/selfish/lazy, and I want you to know that I don’t see you in that way at all. 
  • Navigating relationships with others and setting boundaries can be really hard. I commend you for being so self-reflective and really considering what you need from others and what you can comfortably give. 
  • I don’t think enough people talk about how hard it can be to be assertive and set boundaries. 
  • As painful and uncomfortable as these situations must be for you, I can see how deeply you care about the people around you. 
  • Though it might feel impossible, I genuinely believe you can improve in this area because of X, Y, and Z. 
  • You don’t owe me anything, and I will always see you as a good [friend/sibling/partner/child]. 
  • When and how you choose to express yourself is up to you, but I hope you know that I believe your voice is very important. 

Words That Might Be Discouraging:

  •  Just say something next time! Speak up!
  • Don’t let other people walk all over you. You have to stand up for yourself.
  • You’re thinking way too much. Just do what you can, when you can, and don’t worry about other people. 
  • You won’t be letting anyone down if you cut back. Just stop doing so much. 
  • You can’t spend your whole life worrying about what other people will think of you.
  • It’s going to be hard to change your relationships now. 
  • Why are you doing so many things for other people anyway? What are they doing for you?
  • What’s wrong with your relationships? They seem fine. 
  • It’s a little weird how much you’re worried about upsetting other people.
  • It sounds like you’re overanalyzing things and making them more complicated than they really are. 
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