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How to be Assertive Without Feeling Guilty

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Do you recognize this feeling when you feel so annoyed and frustrated because you feel like other people are controlling your life? You have so many obligations, responsibilities, and favors that you have to do for other people, that you just don’t find the time for the things that are genuinely important to you. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. In this blogpost I will teach you how to be more assertive in life, so you can live your life on your own terms without feeling guilty.

You LOVE helping people and find it very difficult to say no. Even if you aren’t available, you tend to find a way to help this person anyway. The feeling when a person thanks you, gives you this deep feeling of fulfilment.

Also, probably you find that people have very high expectations of you. They expect that you literally stop with whatever you are doing to go ahead and help them instead. And they think this is completely normal and even obvious.

Maybe you have even realized that when you need help with something, they are not really there for you and that hurts a lot. You’re giving so much, but not receiving from these people.

Relatable, right? This was me not a long time ago.

I felt insecure and not ‘enough’. I sought approval and acceptance in basically doing everything for the people close to me (and even people not close to me). I felt this overwhelming obligation to always be nice to everyone and to be the go-to person who everyone could count on (so that it would be impossible for people not to like me).

I often put myself in these complicated situations where two people’s expectations were contradicting each other putting me in a dilemma where I had to choose. I had no choice but to disappoint someone. I remember that this affected me so much. I felt horrible and a total failure for having to disappoint people I care about.

And this went on for YEARS. I didn’t even notice back then how exhausting it was to live with all these expectations.

A turning point for me was the moment I started to have a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. I was traveling every other weekend abroad to see him. Also, I was working a student job long hours in addition to studying my Masters full time, to have enough money to travel that often. So if I didn’t work or study enough during the week, I couldn’t go and see him.

I was so in love (and still am 🙂 ) that I wouldn’t let come anything in my way to go and see him. I became so busy with combining all of these things, that I literally had no other option but to start saying no to other people. This was a major motivation for me to start protecting my time.

This was the first time in my life that I started putting myself first and it was horrifying. I remember feeling so confused and guilty. I noticed that some of my ‘friends’ were upset that I wasn’t that available for them anymore and told me ‘I changed’.

I really started realizing what a pushover I had been for all these years, seriously. I also started to look deeper inside myself and noticed so many patterns and things that were linked to each other. The fact that I am a perfectionist, my deep fear of conflict and confrontation, my tendency to overshare, overexplain myself, and apologize for everything.

Everything became so clear and I felt that I FINALLY really started to know and understand myself. Since then I have made some huge steps in being more assertive and coming up for myself.

It has been one hell of a journey, but I changed. And gosh, what a relief! I no longer have to live up to all these people’s expectations and being so worried about what they think about me.

And believe me, you have to power to change too. Here are my tips on how to be more assertive and start setting healthy boundaries in your life.

1. Remember that it will be a journey

Becoming assertive isn’t something you can change overnight. It is totally changing the way you are interacting with people and the way you naturally behave ( and what you probably learned as a child).

You have to re-teach yourself to behave in a totally different way. So give yourself time and have patience.

2. Self-Awareness is key for learning how to be Assertive

The first essential thing to do is to get to know yourself better. Do some introspective work and figure out why you feel this strong obligation to help and serve other people . I strongly recommend you to journal and write every thought or connection down that comes up. Here are some questions that could inspire you when journaling:

  • Where does this behavior originate from? Did you have any traumatic experiences as a child? Or do you have very demanding parents? Or has this behavior originated from your perfectionism (your perfectionism has put a lot of pressure on you to be this perfect girl that’s always there for her friends and family)
  • Are you seeking approval and acceptance from other people by always being available for them?
  • Do you have a fear of confrontation and conflict or do you feel extremely uncomfortable when being in a conflict?
  • Are you afraid about what people might think of you if you do something that is against their expectations?
  • Do you have difficulties with saying your opinion even though it goes against the common consensus?
  • Did you have any bad experiences in the past where you have spoken up?
  • Do you feel intimidated sometimes by other people?
  • Are you scared that people you care about might abandon you if you stop pleasing them?
  • Do you feel unworthy of having friends and family that actually care about you for the person you are?

3. Believe that you are enough

The next step in order to be more assertive is to actively convince yourself and genuinely start believing that you are enough. You’re enough and are worthy just for existing on this planet. Accept yourself for the person you are, the good sides but also the less good sides. Nobody is perfect and honestly, thank god. Life would be so boring if everyone would be perfect.

You’re an evolving human being, growing constantly, and becoming a better version of yourself every single day. You will never be a finished product. So don’t postpone your confidence and happiness until the day you are ‘perfect’ because that day will never come. Those few kilograms that you want to lose or the number of things that you get done in a day should not determine how much you love yourself. And if you don’t love and respect yourself for who you are as a person, then it becomes very difficult for other people to love and respect you.

So be your unique, authentic self and be proud of the things that distinguish you from other people. These are the things that make you interesting as a person.

Stop saying things just because that’s what other people want to hear. Tell them your genuine and honest opinion. They will appreciate you for doing that.

4. Self-Prioritization and Self-Compassion

In order to be more assertive, set healthy boundaries in your life, and stop letting people walking over you, self-prioritization and self-compassion are absolutely key.

P. E King mentions in his book ‘The Art of Everyday Assertiveness’ the following quote I absolutely love:

you deserve to prioritize yourself and be the hero in your own movie – not the martyr who gives their life to save everyone else.

P. E King

It is extremely important to prioritize yourself in your own life because unfortunately, nobody in your life will put you first… at least not in the way that you deserve to be. So make it a habit to take a second sometimes to just think about what it is that you want, feel, and need before listening to the needs and feelings of other people. In other words, have compassion with yourself and recognize and express your own needs, feelings and thoughts.

Your needs, feelings, and thoughts are NOT less important than those of someone else. Realize that it is not acceptable for someone to walk over you and take advantage of you without taking your feelings and needs into account. So speak up and start putting yourself first!

5. Make a habit of not immediately saying yes to requests

Look, I am not saying that you shouldn’t help anyone in your life ever again. I’m only saying that you should at least think a second and ask yourself if this request is worth your time. Say that you will think about it or that you have to check your calendar and get back to them. In this way, you will gain some time to think. In these situations, you should ask yourself at least the following questions:

  • Is this request reasonable?
  • Am I the right person for doing this? (Or is there someone else that could be a better fit for this request?)
  • Would this person do the same for me if he/she could?
  • Do I (honestly) have time for this?

If the answer isn’t yes on all the above questions, then you say no. Say no without apologizing or overexplaining. You can say that you have other important commitments that you have scheduled long before, where you can’t uncommit to, period. That’s it. Don’t overthink it. you can if you want, suggest someone else that would be a better fit.

When you still find difficulties to know when to say yes or no to requests and favors, you might find it helpful to do the next exercise. Write down some commitments that you have said yes to in the past few months. And think about the feelings you experienced when committing or executing this request. Did you feel resistance, frustration or regret? Or did you feel a sense of joy and excitement? Which patterns do you see? This will show you where your boundaries should be.

6. Start to see time as something extremely valuable

If you think about it, you only want to spend your money on stuff that brings joy or value to you and is worth its price, right? Would you spend a lot of money on something that you don’t like at all, just because a friend or a family member asks you to? Probably not. So why do you spend your time on things you don’t like at all, just because someone you care about asks you to? Doesn’t make sense right?

It is crucial to change your perspective about the concept of time and start to see it as something scarce and valuable. Protect your time and only use it for things that truly matter to you.

7. Consistency is key in order to be assertive

I hear you asking, but if I act like this, I might lose people that I care about. If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who you are as a person, but only for the things you do for him or her, then that person isn’t a true friend. And believe me, if you consistently start coming up for yourself, people will eventually start to respect you more.

Maybe not a first. There might be a phase that people start to get upset with you because they they are used to see you behaving in a certain way and don’t understand that your behavior changed out of nowhere. They probably won’t respect your boundaries at first and will try to walk over them. Your mission is to be consistent with maintaining your boundaries, without being disrespectful.

And when you do, something magical happens. Out of nowhere, you have time, time that you can dedicate to the things that truly matter to you.

I know this all sounds easier said than done and as I said, it will be a journey. But learning how to be more assertive and accept and love yourself for who you are, is without a doubt the single, most important thing someone can learn in their life . So don’t give up, you do have the power to change this! And believe, it will be worth it.

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Let’s Chat!

Have you experienced difficulties with saying no to people you care about? How did you become more assertive? Let me know in the comments. (-:

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  1. Rebekah says:

    I actually started by asking more questions. My job began to implement changes i didnt agree with.

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