How to Draw Boundaries with Aggressives

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Yesterday we had a chart with the behavior qualities of three distinct personalities: passive, assertive, and aggressive. Today we will flesh out these three types to make them more understandable to the average person.

Passive (weak):
Giving in and submitting to intrusions for fear of losing friends or attention.

Passive-Aggressive:
Lacking confidence to confront a personal conflict directly — instead using subtle sabotage to get back at a person. This sort of person tends to stab people in the back instead of directly confronting them with the problem.

Passive

Shy & Withdrawing

Reluctant to assert rights and privileges. Timid and lets others make decisions

Socially inhibited

People who are passive are usually followers, even if they have strong feelings about something. When people behave in a passive way, they don’t know or can’t say clearly what they want and so they never take the lead.

Assertive

Usually more extroverted

Focused on rights and options but uses them constructively and enjoyably

Socially productive
People who are assertive are direct and to the point. They know what they want, go after it, but respect the rights of others.

Aggressive

Somewhat hostile

A vehement defender of own rights yet often violates or usurps the rights of others

Socially destructive

People who are aggressive are pushy and will even physically attempt to get someone to do what they want. They care little about the feelings of others and rely on making others feel uncomfortable, even frightened, in order to get their way. Their actions will have a physical, emotional, or psychological influence of their victim.

Irrational beliefs: Several examples —

I must be good at everything
I feel everyone should like me a lot
There is only one good way to do it
It’s my way or the highway (for you)

You are behaving ASSERTIVELY when you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in direct, honest ways that do not violate another person’s integrity. Assertion involves respect both for your own needs and feelings and for those of the other person.

You are behaving AGGRESSIVELY when you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in ways that humiliate, degrade, belittle, or overpower the other person. Little or no respect is shown for the needs or feelings of others.

You are behaving NON-ASSERTIVELY when you fail to express honest feelings, thoughts, and beliefs — or express them in such an apologetic, diffident, or self-effacing way that others can easily disregard them.

Helpful Hints for Assertive Behavior: Saying “No” to Unfair Requests and Demands

Be sure where you stand first, i.e., whether you want to say yes or no. If not sure, say you need time to think it over and let the person know when you will have an answer.

Ask for clarification if you don’t fully understand what is requested of you.

Be as brief as possible, i.e., give a legitimate reason for your refusal, but avoid long elaborate explanations and justifications. Such excuses may be used by the other person to argue you out of your “no.”

Actually use the word “no” when declining. “No” has more power and is less ambiguous than, “Well, I just don’t think so…”

Make sure your nonverbal gestures mirror your verbal messages. Shake your head when saying “no.” Often people unknowingly nod their heads and smile when they are attempting to decline or refuse.

Use the words “I won’t” or “I’ve decided not to”, rather than “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t”. This emphasizes that you have made a choice.

You may have to decline several times before the person “hears” you. It is not necessary to come up with a new explanation each time, just repeat your “no” and your original reason for declining.

If the person persists even after you have repeated your “no” several times, use silence (easier on the phone), or change the topic of conversation. You also have a right to end the conversation.

You may want to acknowledge any feelings another has about your refusal, “I know this will be a disappointment to you, but I won’t be able to…” However, you don’t need to say “I’m sorry” in most situations to apologize for your refusal. Saying “I’m sorry” tends to compromise your basic right to say “no.”

Avoid feeling guilty — it is not up to you to solve others’ problems or make them happy.

If you do not want to agree to the person’s original request, but still desire to help her/him out, offer a compromise: “I will not be able to baby-sit the whole afternoon, but I can sit for two hours.”

You can change your mind and say “no” to a request you originally said “yes” to. All the above applies to your change of mind.

Helpful Hints for Assertive Behavior (Elaborated Opinion Statements)

Begin with a personal pronoun: “I think that…”; “My opinion is…”

Use a compound sentence containing several phrases connected by such words as because,therefore, and but:

“I disagree with what you’ve said because…” or “I agree with your first point, but…”

You do not need to have an original argument in order to express your opinion.

You may rephrase, repeat, or comment on what another person has said.

You may agree or disagree with what others say. Or you may change the direction of the conversation: “I think we’re ignoring an important point, which is…”

Breaking into an Ongoing Conversation

Listen actively — nod, look directly at others, say “uh-huh.”

Wait for a natural pause in the conversation.
Raise your voice slightly to signal others you wish to speak.

Use your body — lean forward into the conversational arena; use hand gestures; touch the person to whom you wish to speak.

State an opinion, “I think that…” or ask a question, “What about…”

Use the person’s name to gain attention, “Bill, I also think…”

“Excuse me, may I join you?”

“I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, but it sounds fascinating.”

Resisting Interruption

Raise your voice slightly to signal that you would like to finish your comment.

Repeat your opening phrase so that you don’t lose your train of thought, “I think…but I do think that…”

Continue talking without hesitation; engage in parallel talking for a short while.

Don’t look at the interrupter; look at those who are attentive.

Ask the interrupter to wait until you have finished your statement, “I think the best thing to do would… please wait a minute… would be to start a new program.”

Hold up your hand or touch the person to signal that you would like the interrupter to stop.

Pause briefly, and then quickly resume your comment, “I think that… the new program idea is a good one.”

“I’ll be back to that in a minute.”

If you do not want to agree to the person’s original request, but still desire to help her/him out, offer a compromise: “I will not be able to baby sit the whole afternoon, but I can sit for two hours.”

You can change your mind and say “no” to a request you originally said “yes” to. All the above applies to your change of mind.

Try these, too: State an opinion, “I think that…” or ask a question, “What”I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, but it sounds fascinating.”

I’ve submitted this article because I know too many people who go home feeling as if they have been run over by a train. If you’re one of those people, print this out and practice. Remember: practice makes perfect when drawing boundaries with aggressives!

(c) 2004-2009 April Lorier

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