In this tweet from October 2022, I wrote, "when someone communicates their boundaries to you, it is typically an effort to keep you in their life rather than push you away."
Likewise, in my poem, What Grace Means to Me, I wrote among other things:
Eckhart Aurelius Hughes (a.k.a. Scott) wrote:
To be assertive, but not aggressive.
To forcefully defend your own as needed, but not offensively attack others.
To set boundaries without crossing boundaries.
To be rebellious and free, but not a tyrant.
To pick your battles stingily, but fight the battles you pick with incredible stubborn determination.
[Read Full Poem]
I build my boundaries generously and charitably in regard to others. If I was putting up a fence on the edge of my yard, and my contractor was deciding where best to build the fence exactly, such that I could reasonably build it one inch closer to my neighbor's house and just barely make it work, or I could give an extra inch buffer to be extra sure I don't infringe on their yard, practically gifting my neighbor an inch of my yard, I'd generally go with the latter. I'd rather err on the side of drawing the boundary nearer from the start, and enforce that boundary with full sincere force, rather than rudely and greedily draw a bigger boundary, only to then find myself fighting battles on all fronts against many different reasonable enemies who all somewhat rightly feel infringed by my greed. In that latter event, I could not sincerely defend my boundaries because I literally wouldn't even have wherewithal to do so. Yes-people (a.k.a. toxcially passive people-pleasers) and greedy aggressive bullies tend to both make the same mistake (and indeed they tend to be the same exact humans just at different times depending on when they get fed up by their own frustrating passiveness and explode): They both over-promise and thus under-deliver, one in the form of toxically passive people-pleasing yes-saying and the other in the form of aggressive over-threatening and greedy land-grabs, be they literal ones or figurative land-grabs.
There's this interesting interplay here in which the key to effectively setting healthy honest boundaries and truly and honestly enforcing them is in setting less boundaries and narrower boundaries. It's in being more generous and charitable to your would-be enemies when you set the boundaries. It's about practicing self-defense without engaging in non-defensive force (i.e. aggression or even terrorism), and--importantly--erring on the side of peace, charity, and giving that neighbor the extra inch when you start drawing your boundaries and putting up your fences. A closer but enforced boundary is infinitely more than a bigger, wider, but unenforced boundary.
This concept perhaps comes up most in my book near the end in the chapter titled in part, "Do less, better."
The people who fail to really have any healthy boundaries tend to be the people who set the most boundaries, and/or who are most greedy and emotionally controlling towards others and the outer world.
The most outwardly and/or emotionally controlling and possessive people are the ones that are most emotionally out of control and most lacking in self-discipline (a.k.a. spiritual freedom, or even 'rational self-government').
The people who fail to keep their promises tend to be the people who make the most promises.
The people who's Yes'es mean the least are the people who say yes the most, so-called 'yes-people', i.e. toxic unassertive people-pleasers.
If you build your fence too close to my house, you'll find you don't have a fence very long.
In fact, if you start building your fence too close to my house, you'll likely never even have a finished fence in the first place.
If you want a stable effective fence, a real fence at all, give that extra inch when you start building it. Giving that extra inch as soon as you start drawing the plans. A tree that bends doesn't break; it's called a buffer. To have an unbendable and unbreakable boundary, build in the buffer from the get-go.
The people with the least fences are the people who attempt to build the most fences, the biggest fences, and the widest fences.
The people worst at self-defensive and having freedom are the aggressors who infringe on others' freedom, or who greedily dance on the line of it with no buffer, always erring on their side with bias instead of counter-acting their natural bias with sensible charitiable buffers.
A big empire you cannot defend is effectively smaller and worth less than a small country you can defend.
A humongous house of cards is effectively a lot smaller in practice than my humble little home built on firm rock with solid wood.
A mansion with a mortgage you cannot afford is effectively a lot smaller than my little house. To have the former is to practically be homeless. Me? I'm in the opposite situation: When I obtained my mortgage pre-approval, the bank pre-approved me for a mortgage to buy a house 4x more expensive than the one I have. I could easily be living in a mansion, 4x or 5x bigger than the house I have, with a mortgage payment and tax payment 5x bigger than the one I have to match, and with neighbors incessantly up my butt about the HOA fees and fines and about my grass being the wrong shade of green. Don't worry; it wouldn't last even if it came to pass. I'd surely quickly end up homeless with all the other fools who played that game of getting the biggest possible house they could possibly afford, without a penny to spare, to go live in a neighborhood of toxic people who made the exact same type of silly choice. Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. If you look to your left and see Icarus, with his wings smoking, remember that you might be looking into the mirror.
With all that said, let me return specifically to the topic of ultimatums and of the setting and enforcing of healthy personal boundaries in all relationships of all types including all the following areas: personal, romantic, business, political, and spiritual.
Ultimatums can be an example of honest assertive communication. Sometimes the most honest assertive and kind thing to do, for example, is admit upfront to the employee explicitly that if they do that certain thing they will be fired. It's more honest and kind than springing the firing onto them with no advance warning.
Ultimatums are an example of honest assertive communication when they are totally and utterly honest and exemplify the words from that tweet I mentioned: "When someone communicates their boundaries to you, it is typically an effort to keep you in their life rather than push you away."
Ultimatums are an example of honest assertive communication when (and only when) they are neither meant to bully nor meant to dishonestly manipulate. Ultimatums can be honest and assertive when they are done to be politely upfront and give full disclosure as a courtesy in a way that seeks to use honesty and upfrontness to minimize conflict and needless escalation. It's like two businessmen sitting down respectfully at the negotiating table and being upfront and honest about what their dealbreakers are and what their non-dealbreaking desires are, and seeing what deal if any fits the bill, precisely to avoid the risk of getting into a tangled lose-lose mess of unspoken expectations and needless misunderstandings. It can be about revealing some of your cards to your would-be enemy so that they then aren't your enemy but rather your partner in a win-win negotiating process or other form of honest teamwork or other form of mutually beneficial relationship.
However, ultimatums aren't always an example of honest assertive communication. Sometimes they are the exact opposite.
Ultimatums can be dishonest bluffs meant to manipulate or delude, in which case they are at that time the opposite of assertive communication.
Would-be assertive communication has to be honest to be truly assertive.
Lies, bullying, and dishonest manipulation are all, by definition, symptoms of unassertive communication. Keep in mind, it doesn't need to be all three to be toxically unassertive. Any one is toxic unassertiveness all on its own: Lying, bullying, or dishonest manipulation.
Dishonesty done in the name of kindness is the exact opposite of kindness to someone who is bravely free-spirited like me. Sorry, if you really want to live this life I live, part of the price will indeed be giving up the little white lies you tell yourself and others. Every little ounce of toxic unassertiveness is to be cut off and thrown in the fire, if you want to live like I live, that is.
The above is not an exhaustive list either. Generally, any kind of communication that has any of the following traits is toxically unassertive:
- The initiation of violence or the threat thereof
- Non-violent bullying (particularly as a way to manipulate others' behavior and/or express your feelings)
- Using any kind of dishonesty to manipulate others' behavior and/or attempt to get what you want
That list is not an and list; it's an or list. In other words, if your communication entails even just one of those things above, then you are engaging in toxic unassertive communication, which isn't really even communication; it's toxic pseudo-communication.
It can be a little more intricate to understand this on the listening/reading side (versus the speaking/writing side), but, nonetheless, three more symptoms to watch out for are these:
- Reading between the lines instead of taking what's said at face value and/or instead of explicitly asking in plain language (e.g. "do you mean...")
- Responding to perceived tone instead of what's actually said in plain language, especially when the perceived tone is in writing (e.g. a text message or email)
- Assuming the person is dishonest (or wrong) rather using the Philosophical Principle of Charity, especially if it relates to their feelings, desires, or thoughts (since you aren't a mind-reader)
An example of the latter would be saying something like, "You say you aren't angry, but you just don't know yourself well enough. You're just too immature to realize you're angry. I can see it between the lines of what you say! You say you feel one way, but your actions tell me you feel another way!"
Usually, when people talk about things like "emotional truth", I don't buy it. It is often just a dishonest euphemism to get away with lying, meaning it's just a way to lie about having lied. For example, imagine someone saying, "When I said I didn't murder my neighbor, it was an emotional truth; sure I pointed the gun at this head and pulled the trigger, but he deserved it because he's a jerk so emotionally it's not like a murder-murder or like I lied when I said I didn't do it. I don't deserve to be punished for the murder, so it's like I'm innocent. My innocence is an emotional truth."
For more on that idea, I recommend watching Bill Maher's hilarious short piece, Truth Matters. It's only 6 minutes long and available to watch free.
However, where I do believe in a concept like "emotional truth" is when it comes to one expressing their own (alleged) feelings in flat-out plain language. Another term for it is subjective or spiritual truths. It's those things that are realer and truer than anything, but that each person can only know for themselves. It's heavily related to the problem of Philosophical Zombies and the seemingly fundamentally unscientific nature of true consciousness itself. Not only are subjective truths the most certainly real thing of all things that you can know more certainly and intimately than you know anything, but they are the one thing that event the best scientist in the world can't get the slightest objective evidence regarding. They are intrinsically spiritual and subjective. Where all scientific and empirical truths and evidence are doubtable, the subjective is beyond even a shadow of a doubt. It's where the only true absolute proof of anything rests.
Therefore, almost always, you are engaging in toxic unassertiveness and usually flat-out emotional abuse if someone says to you, "I feel X", and you respond, "No, you don't!"
You might as well attempt to convince them that they are a Philosophical Zombie. You don't know; you can't know; you can't even really get the slightest glimpse of it; and you are the one being crazy and dishonest if you act like you can. You aren't a mind-reader, and you would generally be crazy and wrong and probably abusive to ever act like you are.
X could be almost anything:
They say, "I feel sad." You say, "No, you don't!"
They say, "I don't feel angry right now." You say, "Yes, you do!"
They say, "I am thankful for the gift." You say, "No, you aren't!"
It's true they could be lying, but it's also true that you have no way to know that, and it's more likely just a projection. Only they could know they are lying. That's part of what I meant when I wrote in the book, "A lying spider weaves the fabric of his own hellish damnation, and thus not even a literal god can save the liar from himself." (Page 140)
It's in that sense that they are, in a certain sense of the words, entitled to their own emotional truth. You can't know they are lying about such things, and you can't save them from their dishonesty and unassertiveness and the corresponding self-abuse of such things.
Because of the nature of projection, your perception of such intrinsically unknowable and unobservable things (i.e. your attempts at mind-reading) say way more about you then that which you think you are perceiving. In other words, if you think they are lying about their feelings, despite you not being a mind-reader, then it's not so much an indication they are lying, it's an indication that you yourself are a very dishonest person.
When you read between the lines or such, it says a lot about you and can tell you a lot about you, and it says almost nothing about the person whose lines you're reading between.
If you jump to the conclusion that they aren't using honest assertive communication, then it's not an indication they are being dishonest or unassertive, it's an indication that you are toxically unassertive.
When you look between the lines of other people's words and such, then you are generally looking into mirror.
If you find a lot of ungrateful people in your life, guess what, there's not a lot of ungrateful people in your life, there's an ungrateful person in the mirror.
Once you start deeply valuing and consistently using honest assertive communication in the way you speak, you will also listen in the same way. You'll being treating other peoples words as if they were honest assertive.
If someone says, "I'm fine," you honestly and simply think, "Great, they're fine."
That is part of the hand-in-hand nature of free-spirited inner peace and practicing honest assertive communication both in how you speak/write and how you listen/read.
Even if they secretly are a toxically unassertive liar, you've just used the power of assertive communication to not jump in their sinking boat, to not handcuff yourself to someone who's deadset on drowning. Their self-created hell is a circus of their own control and creation; you can't save them from it, but you can choose to not play with their dishonest demon monkeys.
Even if they secretly are a toxically unassertive liar, and you (presumably by projecting your own issues onto them) treat them as a toxically unassertive liar (in other words if your projections by weird coincidence happen to be true), then you have simply just become a toxic enabler of their toxic self-abuse. It's even worse if anything!
Its really not much different than an allegedly loving parent giving their drug-addicted child money.
Except at least the enabling parent knows their child is actually a drug addict.
Enabling toxic unassertiveness is more like a wanna-be enabling parent taking a wild guess that their kid might be addicted drugs, or assuming the kid is based on terrible insufficient evidence, and then going and buying the kid crack cocaine and encouraging the kid to smoke the crack even when the kid says he doesn't want it. "You say you don't want the crack cocaine but you do, Son; trust me; I'm an empath, Son. I'm a mind-reader, Son."
It's as if you are going out of your way to toxically enable a self-abuse that might not even be happening at all, at least not without your absurd proactive enabling.
If it sounds complicated and messy, it's because it is. Unassertiveness is stupidly messy and toxic. The word 'unassertiveness' is practically just synonymous with the word abuse, particularly emotional abuse, including self-abuse.
In contrast, assertiveness is simple and kind and honest. Your words simply mean what they mean. I say what I mean and I mean what I say and it's as pleasantly simple as that.
Eckhart Aurelius Hughes
In addition to having authored his book, In It Together, Eckhart Aurelius Hughes (a.k.a. Scott) runs a mentoring program, with a free option, that guarantees success. Success is guaranteed for anyone who follows the program.