Empowered you: 3 steps to successfully set boundaries

Which of us doesn’t know the resentment and sinking feeling when, once again, we agree to do something we don’t want to do? After saying ‘yes’, you go over it again in your head, beat yourself up, and wonder how you could have responded differently. It is natural to experience this occasionally, but if it’s a regular occurrence then it’s time to take action.


What is assertiveness and why does it matter?

Setting boundaries and asserting yourself is a learnable skill. You can change your behaviour by learning how to stand your ground, speak up, and handle difficult situations, whether personal, social or professional. 

Being assertive is about learning how to let the other person know what you feel comfortable with and what you are not OK with. It is about looking after your mental, emotional and physical well-being. It is possible to feel safe and comfortable in relationships while being able to say ‘no’, express what you want, and negotiate when there is a conflict of priorities.

A lack of boundaries and assertiveness comes at a cost 

What springs to mind when you think about the cost of lacking boundaries and assertiveness? How does this manifest for you?

Some of the most common consequences are

  • Self-neglect. Do you ever do what you want to do? When was the last time you did something just for the joy of it, just for yourself? 
  • Feeling overwhelmed. Are you drowning in long to-do lists, having more things to do than you have time for?
  • Resentment. When you examine your emotions, do you feel an underlying annoyance or frustration, or feel taken advantage of, which impacts on how you deal with people, often leading to conflict? 
  • Avoidance. This is a fear-based response. Do you avoid people, or try to disappear, by not responding, delaying or prolonging dealing with a situation? Unfortunately, this strategy does not make the situation go away, it just prolongs it.

Anxiety and depression are two common mental health issues that arise from difficulty in setting boundaries and asserting yourself. It is time to reflect on what it is that is stopping you from asserting yourself.

Three steps to setting boundaries and asserting yourself

Step one: You need to understand what you feel and what you want

Carefully consider the following questions: 

  1. What is the difficult emotion you are feeling? Can you honour this emotion as valid? 
  2.  What is the need beneath the feeling? Can you honour this need as valid? 
  3.  Do you believe you are worthy of having this need met? 

Example: Alice is going through a change in her life and shares this with her family. But every time Alice talks to her mum on the phone, her mum starts to fuss, saying: “How’s it going?” “Have you done it yet?” “Why don’t you x/y/z.” 

When Alice reflected on the three questions above, she noticed that whenever she thought about phoning her mum, she felt dread – she didn’t want to call because she always felt annoyed by her mum’s nosy questions and unsolicited advice. 

As Alice observes what she is feeling, she validates it and notices her need for this topic not to be brought up every time she calls. She honours and reaffirms herself. 

Step two: Communicate with clear, direct and specific statements or requests

You are allowed to state your expectations or decline an offer. Say what it is that you want or need. Speak with conviction and confidence.

Here is a structure:

  • I feel… (name the emotion you are feeling)
  • When you… (be specific about the behaviour the other person does, without blaming)
  • I want… I need… I expect… (state what you would prefer)

The next time mum brought up the topic, Alice responded: “I know you care about me and mean well, but I am not looking for advice and would rather not discuss it right now. When I have something new to share, I will let you know.” 

Having made her position clear, Alice was then able to change the subject and talk about something else. 

Step three: Dealing with the discomfort of making your request

This is one of the hardest parts. This is most likely the reason we avoid setting boundaries – because afterwards, we feel guilty, fearful, awkward, afraid, and sad. 

Don’t expect things to change overnight. Rather, the more you practice, the better you will get at it, until it becomes second nature and you are able to tolerate your own and others’ discomfort. 

It is important to understand that setting a boundary doesn’t mean the other person or their behaviour is wrong. It just means that is not a good fit for you, right now. Your boundaries are not a judgment on other people, they are simply an acknowledgement of your needs in that moment. 

Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious, you get to choose how to use it. You teach others how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept. When asked to do something, remember that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. 

How can therapy help me become more assertive?

If you would you like to find out how counselling and psychotherapy could support you to become more assertive, feel free to contact me and book free initial 20 min consultation or therapy session. 

Or you might like to attend one of my workshops, where you will learn practical steps for setting boundaries and dealing with your discomfort, as well as how to deal with difficult people who push back, manipulate, give you the silent treatment, and more.

Visit my workshop: Guide to master assertice skills to empower yourself

For more tips, follow me on Instagram @you_matter_therapist


Tawwab. G. N. "Set boundaries, find peace. A guide to reclaim yourself."

Dickson. A. "A woman in your own right. Assertiveness and you."

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, N2
Written by Inese Vorobjova, Children and adults
London, Greater London, N2

Inese is London based, a professionally qualified psychotherapist, offering one-to-one confidential, compassionate counselling in person and online. She works with wide range, but is particularly interested in codependency, boundaries, assertiveness and healing inner child.

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