3 steps towards becoming more assertive

Have you ever felt that your loved ones take you for granted? Do you feel that you can’t say no, but your needs aren’t considered. Don’t worry, you’re not alone on this one. Most people have felt this way at least once in their lives; most of us much more often that that. So, what do you do when your loved ones or friends just aren’t getting the message that you would like some time and space for yourself as well?

Step one: Understand your motivation:

The most important part to becoming more assertive is to realize that it is ok to say no once in a while. You will need to be aware of whether you are actually able to say no, and if not, then why is this the case. Reflect on the following question: “why do I really have a hard time saying no?” Begin your answer by “I find it really hard to say no because________” and write down all the reasons that come to you. Begin you answer with the statement each time. You will notice that obvious answers may include:

I find it really hard to say no because:

  • I don’t want to hurt people
  • I care about_____
  • I want to help others
  • It pleases Allah swt

Now, go beyond the obvious answers and keep asking this question till you feel your list is complete. Do this part first before reading any further. If you did this correctly, you were probably surprised by the last answers you came up with. The primary reason why we don’t like to say no is because we want to be liked, or even needed. The unconscious mind knows that if we say no when asked for help, then we may not be liked, needed, or appreciated by that person. The first step to change this pattern is to remember that giving in this way is meeting a need for YOU. This will encourage a sense of fulfilment and help reduce the resentment you’re feeling.

Step two: Identify your boundaries

Being available for others feels good, but it may lead to resentment and anger if we allow it to infringe on our own needs. It is possible that people ask you for things all the time because they feel that it is OK to do that. On some level, you’ve given them the permission. Either you say things like “let me know if you need anything,” or perhaps its just that you don’t have any boundaries. People pick up on our boundaries very quickly, if we have them in place that is. Our “boundaries” are our expectations from others. These include both how we expect to be treated as well as what we are unprepared to tolerate in someone’s behaviour towards us. Our boundaries are established over time and experience. For example, one realises that they don’t like being shouted at, by having had that experience in the first place.

In order for others to know when its ok to ask you to do things, you will need to establish some boundaries and then communicate them. Now spend a few minutes to think about the most important things you need/ don’t need in your relationships and create your own table. Remember to identify the most important behaviours on either side. Use the contexts and answers on the table as a guide. Remember that no one can meet all our needs all the time, so flexibility is important.


Area / ContentHow I expect to be treatedThings I am flexible onWhat I find unacceptable
My Marriage / Spouse- Include me in big decision

- Respect (return phone calls)
Different tasts- Drinking

- Abusive language
Children & Family MembersDinner togetherUnplanned visitsBack answering
Work & CommunityBeing on time for meetings

Now that you know what your boundaries are, you need to communicate them to the relevant people. Remember, that this isn’t about getting angry. You can do this in a polite and respectful way. This part of the exercise can be a little tricky because its how we communicate our message that makes the difference on how others feel about what we’ve said. Do you remember having an important conversation that just ended up going all- wrong? Why do you think that happened? Did the person misunderstand you? Remember, that the way someone reacts to what we have said tells us a lot about how we communicated.

Step 3: Communicate your boundaries:

Practice what you’re going to say by writing down a sample conversation. If you want to be accommodating while also respecting your needs, you might say something like “I really love being there for you and its such a pleasure, but I sometimes find it hard because of all the things I’ve got going on.” Talk about what you are willing to offer but also mention what you need from the other person. Remember to focus on the behaviour and not the person’s character. Once you have got your practice conversation, walk away from it for about 3 days. This will allow you to think over it, and for anything new to be added if necessary.

In the person’s shoes:

After three days, re-read the conversation as if you are the person on the receiving end of these words. How does it feel to hear this? Do you feel respected? Do you understand what’s being asked of you? Now come back to being yourself, and make any needed adjustments to what you will say. Once you are satisfied what you need to say, then make some time to have the conversation with the person.

Insha’Allah I hope that this technique will support you in creating a balance between being accommodating and meeting your needs as well.  

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