Assertive Boundary Setting


Back to BLOG    Back to Codependency Recovery

Assertive confrontation
1. Describe objectively what you heard and saw. Quote as close to the original dialog as

possible or describe exactly what you saw.

“When you walked onto my freshly washed kitchen floor with mud on your shoes...” “When you said, “You never do anything right...”
“When you told me, ‘I have my homework done’, and yet I saw you watching TV all evening....”

2. Then state how you feel about it using feeling words only, and own your own feelings by using “I feel...” statements

I felt angry!
I felt hurt
I feel disappointed... I was confused
…I didn’t like it when...

Avoid the temptation to state the following:

I feel that you were being selfish... (Judgment, Blame statement)
You make me feel... (Giving someone else responsibility for your feelings) I feel you should... (Trying to control another person)
I feel like... (A thought, not a feeling)

You were just trying to…(mind reading)

3. (OPTIONAL) “...because...” Explain the reasons for your request.
“When you walked onto my freshly washed floor with mud on your shoes I felt angry because I had spent the last hour working hard to clean it and now it’s dirty again”. (Avoid blame or scolding or mind reading or raising your voice, just explain your reasons why)

(At any point you can stop and listen to the other person’s feedback, but stay with your assertive position. Remain kind and assertive.)

4. Ask for what you need and want.

“What I’d like you to do is clean up the mud on the floor. Also, in the future I’d like you to take off your muddy shoes before you come into the house from now on. Would you be willing to do that, please?

(If that person is willing to agree with your request and reacts in a positive way, you are finished at this point. If the person refuses to cooperate, fights, argues or becomes abusive then go to the next step.)

5. State what your reaction or action will be based on their choice. If you choose not to cooperate with me on this matter, this is what I will do_______.

(Consequences to be something you have control over and are willing to carry through with. Remember, you can’t make another person’s choices for them, but you can choose how you react to what they do. So be creative, come up with a consequence you have control over carrying out. The intention is to create fairness, rather than to punish the other person.)

At any time, the person you are confronting can interject a question or response into this model. By listening attentively, you may change your reaction or position to the problem. Example: “I feel angry that you tracked mud onto my freshly washed floor.” Response: “Oh, I’m sorry! There was an emergency next door and I was running to find the phone. I’ll clean it up later.” Obviously there was a good reason for the perceived violation and there is no need to continue further. Giving the other person ample opportunities to respond is a part of healthy confrontation.

Here’s how the model works

Here’s the short version. #1 and #2
“Hey, I am angry that you walk on my freshly mopped floor with your muddy shoes.” (If you get the appropriate response at that point, you don’t need to go any further)

Longer version. #1, #2 and #3
“Hey, I’ve been working very hard to get this floor clean for the last hour! I’m really irritated you walked on it with your muddy shoes.”
(If you get the desired response, you’re done.)

Longer version: #1, #2, #3 and #4
“When you said, I don’t do anything right, I felt hurt because I was trying my best and it just didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I would appreciate it if you would focus on what I do right, rather than cut me down when something doesn’t work.”
(If the behavior stops there, you are done. If it continues, go on to #6)

#5 “If you continue to criticize me, I will hang up the phone (leave the room, refuse to cooperate in some way, etc.) I deserve to be treated better than that”.

Make sure you only threaten #6 with something you can carry through with before you suggest it. If this person threatened to never speak to the other for the rest of their lifetimes, that is probably unrealistic. Make your consequence something you can and will carry through with that will get the point across in a firm but non-aggressive way.

If the unacceptable behavior continues even after carrying through with #6, you’ll need to take more drastic measures, set more drastic consequences. If the situation is severe enough, you might try counseling, some kind of intervention or removing yourself from that person if possible. Do not accept abuse.

If no good options are possible or available, set powerful emotional boundaries and learn major COPING techniques to deal with the problem on an ongoing basis. Never reward abusive behaviors. Detach with love if you need to. Pray for guidance. You don’t have control over another person’s choices but you do have control over how you perceive their behaviors and attitudes and what you do as a result of them. If none of the above suggestions make any difference works, you may be in a very difficult situation.

“Today’s mighty oak is just yesterdays nut that held it’s ground”

“It appears to me that....” or, “It seems to me as if....”

When confronting another person you want to refrain from any kind of blame, mind-reading or judgements because that will solicit defense in the person being confronted and communication stops. When something appears a certain way to you, but you don’t have the facts, it is appropriate to make a statement something like this, “It appears to me that you are angry. Am I right about that or am I wrong.” Or, “You seem a little disappointed. Is my suspicion accurate?” Or, “It looks to me like you might be a little nervous. Am I reading you right?” There is no accusation here, just giving honest feedback and inviting the other person to correct your perception of you are wrong.

This way there is no criticism, no judgements, no mind reading, just asking a pointed question in hopes of getting honest feedback. A calm, pleasant tone of voice, body posture and look on the face are all important in communicating a desire to understand and work through a problem, rather than trying to pick a fight.

Beware of YOU statements, Use I statements instead

A common mistake is to make the “I feel....” part of the assertive confrontation, an opportunity to bash or correct the other person. Example: When you leave your clothes on the floor, I feel that you are being disrespectful of me.” or “I feel you should be more considerate.”
Or, some people make the mistake of holding the other person responsible for their feelings. Example: “You make me feel angry.”

YOU statements throw up defense walls and you will likely run into resistance.

Own your feelings! Say, “I am sensing that you are angry. Am I right about that?” Rather than, “I can tell you are just angry.”
Own your perceptions, “It appears to me that you are irritated.” Rather than mind reading, “You’re just irritated.”

“I’d like to see you go to college.” Rather than “You should go to college.

When you take an assertive stance, it is not about trying to control, regulate or fix the other person, but letting other people know where you stand. Owing your own experience and letting others reveal their own, shows respect for the other person’s experience

When making assertive confrontations use “I” statements instead of “You” blame statements. “This is what saw, this is what heard, this is how feel about it. This is what would like to see happen, and this is what will do if you choose not to cooperate.” This way you are owning the fact that YOU are responsible for your own experience. You are simply asking the other person for cooperation. If they chose not to cooperate with you, you will set consequence you have control over carrying through with.

Assertive confrontation with Boundaries: You don’t have a right to try and tell a person whether or not to stop smoking (that is trying to control something you have no control over) but you do have a right to ask a person to stop smoking in your home (because you have the right to set boundaries where you have ownership). If they fail to cooperate and you are in the power- over position (you won the house), you can set a consequence something like this: “If you continue to smoke in my house I will ask you to leave.” If it were an equal-power relationship such as spouses or room mates, it could be something like this: “You know how much you want me to do __________ for you? Well, I would be happy to do that for you if you would stop smoking in the house. With an equal-power relationship it needs to be negotiation and compromise. When you are making a logical request in an appropriate manner, people are more likely to cooperate.

Negotiate differences: The person you are making this request of may or many not like your stipulations and want to negotiate different arrangements. That is fine, as long as their requests are reasonable and both (all) parties agree. But, if a person is unreasonable and just wants to fight or be abusive, then it is up to you to do whatever you need within ethical and legal means to make sure your rights are not being violated. This may mean detaching from the situation like going to another room, hanging up the phone, changing jobs, firing an employee, moving on, calling the police for assistance or the like.

Detach and take care of yourself: You only have control over you, your behaviors, the cooperation you ask for, the boundaries you set and the consequences you carry through with as a result. You can make a request of others, but you can seldom make decisions for them. So take control over only that which you have control over, which is YOU. Sometimes the only control you have over a situation is to choose a perception of the event(s) you can live. As Victor Frankl stated after many years in German concentration camps, he didn’t have control over what the Nazi’s took away from him but he always had his freedom of how he choose to perceive what they did to him. How you choose to perceive anything is your greatest power.

When you’ve done everything the right way and you still have no control to effect the outcome, the next choice is to turn the whole situation to God. As often quoted in the 12-step programs, “Let go and let God.” (refer to the articles Detaching and Letting Go in the Serenity chapter)

Make sure emotions are neutral before beginning an assertive confrontation: When your feelings are super charged about an unacceptable situation is not the best time to have an assertive confrontation. Find a healthy way to discharge any negative feelings about the person or event, then have an assertive confrontation in an atmosphere of logic and trying to problem solve. If the other person’s emotions are still highly charged, suggest that you will be happy to work out the matter with them when their feelings are calm and you can both proceed in a reasonable manner.

Being Nice: I am an advocate for being nice. It makes the world a happier place. However, some people think NICE means you remain passively tolerant even when others are violating your boundaries. Some people think being nice is passively relenting your power to others to keep everyone happy. That is a mistake! Not only do nice people get taken advantage of that way, but they also send a message to the violator that is is okay to continue violating.

It is much healthier to chose to be kind and courteous as you firmly set limits and hold to them. If consequences are required for violations, you can remain pleasant while carrying them out. But never allow NICE to mean you are a door mat or that others take advantage of you.

Being nice in a healthy way includes carrying through with consequences for violated boundaries with the intent of teaching valuable lessons or keep things fair.


Grace had a good and loving mother, who was also very controlling during her growing up years. When Grace became an adult she created a huge defense wall of anger to keep her mother at a distance so she could no longer control her.

Her wall of anger worked at keeping her mother away, but also kept Grace isolated from many good things about her mother which she missed very much. Mom was growing old and Grace was afraid she would die without ever having good relations with her again.

So Grace forgave her mother but also developed safe boundaries when she was with her.  This meant she could be around mom and enjoy all that was good about her, but when mom started trying to control, Grace held firm to her boundaries no matter how hard mom tested them. Rather than buckling in and giving mom her way, she recognized she was no longer a helpless child and only had to give in to moms control tactics if she chose.

When mother said, “Grace, you need to __________, and you go and do it right now! Grace would just smile and say, “Mom, I’m all grown up now. I will decide what’s right for me and you can decide what is right for you. She remained calm and in control. Now that Grace claimed her right to be in control of her own life and had her own inner power, she could remain calm and sweet as she set assertive boundaries with her mother.

With boundaries, Grace could spend precious time with her mother without the for anger to keep her safe. She only needed to claim her Bill of Rights and inner power to keep her safe. As a child Grace had no power, but as an adult she does.

Grace enjoyed many positive hours with her mother while asserting firm boundaries NICELY.

“Always remember, we all have our own opinions and beliefs. 

We have different ways in dealing with life’s troubles and joys.

To survive our differences without hurting each other is what Goodness is all about.” ~Dodinsky

Compiled and written my Helen Bair© 2010





~The originator of many of these articles & flyers, unknown