Many people struggle to assert themselves because they are confused about their emotional boundaries. As physical boundaries define your property, emotional boundaries define who you are. It separates what you own from what others own. It sets limits … it defines where you end and where others begin. People with mixed-up boundaries may end up being passive or aggressive.
In their book, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life” (OMF Literature Inc, 2004), Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend list several areas that make up a person’s boundaries. Among those I find particularly tricky for Filipinos are:
o Attitudes and beliefs. If you often cave in to the pressure you feel from others, perhaps you are trying to be responsible for what they believe is right. It is a belief that belongs to another person’s property, and yet you live your life as if that belief belonged to you. For example, you may avoid friendship with a person because your “barkada” thinks that person is not cool. Or you may feel compelled to spend the holidays with your family because your parents expect that every year. Know what you believe in and try to live by them!
o Feelings. If you deny your feelings, then you would not be able to express them. You put yourself in danger of having others dominate you, and then you end up resentful but don’t quite know why. On the other hand, if you do not take responsibility for your negative feelings, you may blame others and be aggressive with them … like throwing your garbage across your neighbor’s fence. Are you often angry or irritated with other people? Instead of thinking that “they made me feel bad”, own up and say “I feel bad” or “I feel angry”. Others may have done something bad to you, but you can choose how you react.
o Limits. Everyone has limits in terms of resources, capabilities, tolerance, and so on. You must assess what your limits are and live by them. What do you do when a family member asks you for money you can’t spare? Or when a colleague chats with you too long when you are beating a deadline? You must also respect the limits of others. Do not demand that other people give you what you ask for, or try to control their behavior, and then get frustrated when they can’t meet your expectations.
To help you be assertive, identify, own, and take responsibility for what’s within your boundaries. And let others take responsibility for theirs. Assertive living means mutual respect!