Drawing Boundaries – Developing Assertive Messages



“Being assertive does not mean attacking or ignoring others feelings. It means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly without attacking others.” Albert Ellis 

Boundaries and Being Assertive

One word that is often used for being assertive in our society today is to draw or hold our “boundaries”.  In a physical space, boundaries are easy to identify, such as a fence, stop signs, or a door. Boundaries in our social experiences are not as easy to identify but are just as real and important as physical boundaries. Fences and doors tell us where it is safe to go, and how to behave.  The same is true when we are assert our social boundaries, think of them as the invisible fences or doors we draw in our lives. Asserting our social boundaries, tell those around us what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable in our interaction, they are the guidelines and rules we provide people around us for how we want our relationship with them to look.

Robert Bolton (1979), he gives us a simple but effective template for developing assertive messages to help us draw boundaries:

When you_________ (a nonjudgmental description of someones behavior)

I feel_____ (a specific feeling)

Because____ (how someone’s behavior directly impacts you, how they have crossed a boundary)

While this assertion template seems really simple, it actually can be quite challenging to utilize.  Some tips for making sure that you are asserting your boundaries in a productive way.

  • Focus on one behavior at a time.  If you have been more passive in your communications you might want to jump into drawing all the boundaries.  Pick one to start with and work from there
  • Describe the behavior you chose to focus on in a nonjudgmental way (easier than it sounds) with nonjudgmental language.  Example – “When you don’t pick up your crap” vs “When you leave dirty laundry in the bathroom”
  • Pick a very specific feeling (most specifics on this below)
  • Watch out for a feeling statement that says “I feel you…” the feeling word should describe your feeling in this situation, not be about the other person Example- “I feel like you don’t care” vs “I feel hurt” 
  • When you describe the impact on you, really express how someones behavior impacts you. Think back to the types of goals or SCARF model trigger, express what is really going on for you
  • Keep it concise.
  • Use this template for positive reinforcement of behavior you want to keep seeing.  When you pick up your dirty clothes, I feel appreciative, because I don’t have to take time to pick them up.


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Making Conflict Suck Less: The Basics Copyright © 2020 by Ashley Orme Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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