Being Assertive. Your neighbor is asking you to pick up her mail for the third time this month. Your coworker is asking if you will take her to work every day next week while her car is getting repaired. Your relative wants to extend their visit an extra four days. You may not be able to control what is asked of you but you can control how you react to it. Being assertive means you are setting a boundary for how you want to be treated, and helps you set limits on what you want to do and give with your time, all without draining your energy and self-care. Being assertive does not mean you are aggressive, or that you are selfish. Saying no may seem scary at first, but it is an essential tool to learn so that you do not go out of your way for others to the point where you neglect your own needs. If you find yourself struggling with being assertive, here are some ways to help you learn to not only say NO, but to help you find your voice and finally take care of yourself!
Identify What you Want. Even before a favor is asked of you, is it important to recognize what you are willing to give. This is easier said than done when you are faced with someone with a unique request, but as you may have already come to figure out, we learn through experience what we are and aren’t comfortable with. For example, let’s say a relative of yours is coming into town for a week on business and asks to spend the week in your home. You have identified that having guests stay in your home past 3 nights is very exhausting for you, since you are unable to focus on your own work and will often sacrifice to cater to others. By identifying that you are okay with a 3 night stay, you are now able to assert yourself by opening your home and your time for your relative for that time span only. Knowing what you are willing to give, especially before you give someone an answer to their request, helps you stand firm when you offer what you are willing and able to give.
Be Direct. Once you have established what your limits are with helping others… you need to OWN IT. If your guilt becomes super high, that’s understandable, especially if setting boundaries is a new experience for you. If you start to feel guilt, you can also offer suggestions to follow up on a request asked of you, such as, “I will pick you up from the airport, but I am not able to drop you off, because I am unable to get to work late.” When you are direct in setting boundaries, it makes you less vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others. You can also help yourself recognize when someone is crossing the line and taking more from you than you offered to give.
Don't Apologize! The hardest part about saying no is often the guilt you feel having to let someone down. Remember that sorry once is okay, but don't over-apologize for being assertive and setting your boundaries. You may not want to turn down a request from a loved one, but sometimes putting yourself first is important to give you the energy to help others. Don't apologize for taking care of yourself. It is also important to realize that when you apologize you are opening the door to a discussion about the favor or task that is being asked of you. If you are unable, or unwilling, to do something, by not apologizing you are further asserting the idea that you will not be giving your time and energy to what is being asked of you.
Be Open to Discussion. After you have identified your boundaries and taught yourself how to be comfortable asserting your limits, you could then possible offer help on your own terms. For example, lets say that a friend is asking if you could take in their cat for a week, however your significant other is allergic, and you are working and are concerned the cat will scratch your furniture. When you assert your boundaries, you may also offer an alternative, such as offering to feed and check in on the cat before and after work. Be careful having these discussions, since opening yourself up to counter offers put you at risk for bending the boundaries you have identified. Once you feel confident within yourself to have these talks, you can realize that asserting your boundaries does not stop you from being a helpful and kind friend.
Don't Fall Prey to Guilt. As stated above, it is hard enough when you struggle with the guilt you feel internally, but it's another thing to have to feel it from someone else. "Why can't you be late for work just this once?" "I need you and I won't be able to get anyone to take me that early." "I've help you before why can't you do me this one favor?" It can be mentally draining to be asked more than you are able to give, and even more so if you are forced to feel badly for saying no. Just remember that no one can advocate for your needs better than you can, and setting boundaries with others is not something you should feel guilty for.
Practice Role Playing. Have you ever talk to yourself in the mirror or while you're in the car on your way to a big meeting to practice your presentation or go over a conversation then you need to have with someone? Sometimes talking it out gives you the confidence you need that you are saying what needs to be said to get your point across. Being assertive can be daunting if it is not in your nature to do so, so it may be helpful to ask a close friend or family member to role-play a scenario with you, whether something specific that was asked of you that you need to say no to, or just a few random scenarios that you can play out, to help you practice saying no face to face with someone. Have the person you are role playing with take note of your tone of voice, your body language, and the context of what you are saying. Are you slouching, have fleeting eye contact, or say "umm" too much? These are signs that you are not confident in what you are saying, which could prevent others from respecting the boundary you are setting. Keep this in mind while you practice to build up your confidence.
Being assertive can be difficult, especially when you have a caring soul that wants to help others. Just remember that a mother has to put on her oxygen mask on a plane before she can help her children. You need to practice self-care so that you can allot the energy you need to help others. Being assertive isn't malicious, you are just starting to realize your self-worth, and once you start saying no to others, you can start saying yes to yourself.