Sadie Bingham, MSW, LICSW
  • The Essential A, B, C’s: Assertion, Boundaries & Clarity

    “‘No’ might make them angry. But it will make you free.” – Nayyirah Waheed

    Becoming assertive, creating boundaries, and being impeccable with your speech is a skill that you learn. I and presumably other women, struggle with wanting to please others and always be liked. It is uncomfortable when you begin this journey. There will be moments when a person can go too far. Creating arbitrary boundaries, just for the sake of creating them. There are moments when you attempt to assert yourself and you can come off cold or harsh. There will be times when you are cultivating boundaries and asserting yourself, only for it to blow up in your face because you weren’t clear with your speech. This is a learning process, which means, you will stumble along and go from one extreme to the other. But if you are willing to look at this as a process that will bring results, you will create a skill set that will set you apart from others.

    Let’s begin with boundaries. I like to envision a physical barrier between myself and whatever I am creating space with. Boundaries are about creating literal and figurative space. Think about those moments when you feel overwhelmed by the demands brought to you from others. That sense of overwhelm is your signal that a boundary needs to be established. Begin to mull over, what exactly, this demand is making you feel. Do you feel drained? Do you feel resentful? Do you feel like isolating? Boundaries have become even more important due to the current technological era. Now it is easier than ever to demand from others. Now our expectations are higher than ever about when someone should respond via email, text, or phone.

    When I began this journey, I understood that people may occasionally consider me rude.

    However, what I understood more, was that I could no longer be constantly available to people. I understood that I needed time and space back. This was not something I needed to make excuses for. Ultimately, I understood that in this process people would have to lower their expectations on when I would become available. And over time they did. In the beginning, creating boundaries comes out of desperation and a sense of protection.

    But as you begin to see the point of boundaries, you understand that this is about values. That you value your time, attention, space, and energy.

    You cannot create boundaries without learning to be assertive. For myself, I had to wrestle with the fact that if I was putting my own needs first, then ultimately, I was letting someone else down. There was and still is, a need of mine to please others, but after many years of making this transition a habit, this has become easier. Can this be considered incredibly selfish? Maybe – but it also has a loving component. I have learned that when I have let someone else’s needs trump my own, I begin to resent them and the situation. Resentment is the opposite of love. When I liked people, this became confused with always pleasing them. Constantly pleasing, gave way to complete resentment. It’s a process. Once you see clearly that the beginning of this process usually begins with letting someone’s needs ahead of your own, you can stop this right away. Which leads me to the last part of the equation…

    Clarity is of the utmost importance when you create boundaries and assert yourself. You must be clear and impeccable with your speech as you are describing your needs. Make things about yourself instead of blaming others for how you feel.

    Keep in mind, that you can be kind and full of grace, while also letting someone down.

    When you are asserting yourself, while simultaneity creating boundaries, only make statements you can keep. For example, give yourself space on when you can actually get back to someone. Instead of saying “tomorrow,” you can say “when I get a chance.” Words carry weight and have huge value. Pay attention to your ability to follow through with whatever you have committed to.

    For me, this whole process stemmed from the realization that I would rather be respected than liked.

    I began to see that being liked was cheap. As soon as I said something someone didn’t like, my likability diminished almost instantly. However, respect is earned and not futile. When you have gained the respect of your colleagues, friends, and family, trust is built. Be gentle with yourself as you embark on this journey because there will inevitably be lost moments or moments you went too far. But I promise you will begin to rely on these tools as a skill set that you have available whenever you need.