One of the principle purposes of framing rights as is that it connects them to our instincts. Trusting and listening to our instincts offers us a way of identifying an abusive situation. This in turn is connected to our personal limits.

Personal limits are different for each person, and only that person can define their own personal limits. Personal limits may be crossed by a physical act or gesture, by words, or by a look or a tone of voice. We know that someone has violated our personal limits by our feelings. We may feel sad, afraid or anxious. We may have a number of bodily sensations that can offer clues to our feelings, such as tension in our stomachs or our muscles, a headache or numbness.

When someone has violated our personal limits, we can respond in a number of ways. Our Bullying Prevention module offers definitions and explanations we can use with students about various ways people may respond to aggression. (See Escalating and De-escalating Bullying.) These apply equally well when considering responses to an abusive situation involving adults.

Response Definitions

  • Passive: Sending a message that you have no rights, and no power. The person who is bullying may think she or he is “in charge”.
  • Aggressive: Acting so that other people’s rights are taken away and you keep all the power. The child who is bullying may think she or he has to fight even harder to keep power.
  • Assertive: Sending the message that your rights are important. You keep your power and you respect the rights of others. The person who is bullying may find it difficult to keep all the power for herself or himself.
  • Escalating the bullying: Being aggressive often makes the problem worse, so there’s more or worse bullying. It “escalates” the bullying.
  • De-escalating the bullying: Being assertive often changes the situation so there’s less bullying. It de-escalates the bullying. De-escalating makes the problem better because you keep your own rights and power without taking away someone else’s.

An effective response to bullying, as to any abusive situation, is assertiveness. The following are some elements of an assertive response:

  • firm tone of voice;
  • body language that communicates confidence (shoulders back, standing tall, facing the person directly);
  • eye contact;
  • assertive messages.

A few suggestions for communicating an assertive message:

  • Sometimes, we may feel awkward or uneasy about saying clearly what we want and what we are thinking. Clear and direct communication makes us stronger, and helps us appear stronger.
  • Sometimes, when we face a stressful situation we can forget to breathe. Breathing helps us to see the situation more clearly and to think about what to do and how to respond. Remembering to breathe is an important technique that facilitates an assertive response.

Saying it

The following are examples of assertive communication:

  • “I” messages (for example, “I don’t like the way you’re speaking to me.” or “I feel cornered. I’d like you to give me some space.”)
  • Naming the problem (for example: “When you put me down, that is bullying.” or “You are yelling at me, and that is aggressive.”)
  • Stating what you want/don’t want (for example, “I’d like you to sit back down.” or “I don’t want to stay here any longer. You’ll need to move out of the way.”)