It just opens the door to mixed messaging, passive aggression, mind games, and guesswork. When we're on the receiving end of a no, it's not typically a rejection of who we are, it's that the person doesn't feel equipped to or want to offer a yes. Maybe it was a clown. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one, but the bulb has to want to change. Line feeling like it's taking ages? Picture yourself pitching a tent there, then later laying bricks for a house, then your children coming to visit for Christmas. For an example of how serious frustrations in life can be turned into a funny game through good-natured storytelling competition with friends (or even with alternate voices in your head), Monty Python's The Four Yorkshiremen skit is one of the best. It can easily be found online, and is a beautiful demonstration of the humor behind one-upmanship and exaggeration, and how such dialogues, whether internal or external, can flip a situation from distressing right back to laughable. Even if you don't laugh out loud, to even be able to see a previously dire situation as kind of funny is already a monumental perspective shift that'll help keep you swinging when life throws you a curveball. Just make sure that when you exaggerate, you do so from a place of imagination, of embellishment designed to tell the most satisfying story. If you find exaggeration only exacerbates your stress, however, it is okay to leave that method behind for the moment while you focus on being wry and dry instead. I could tell she wanted to scream and yell, but she knew it wasn't appropriate. But I also feel fed up, you know? I mean, sure I've made some mistakes and some missteps, but does that mean my whole life will be like this, wondering how I'll even pay rent? I don't think so, I replied. It won't always be like this. There is another side to your current situation. I just feel powerless and worthless, like I have no worth in the world, like I will never have any worth ever again. Tara was starting to spiral.

Powerlessness, frustration, and fear have a way of amplifying one another, sending you deeper and deeper into the abyss. What can I do to help? The clarity and honesty are to be embraced, whatever the answer might be. We must not ever try to influence the boundaries of another. Of course, the flip side is true, too: We have every right to create space in and around ourselves, and to prioritize our needs without guilt or fear of consequence. It's our individual right to create a life that's peaceful, and in which we're allowed to say yes or no when something is asked of us. We Don't Understand the Difference Between Assertion and Aggression Holding space is hard. It requires us to stand firm and be willing to follow through on consequences when our limits are disrespected. The trouble with this, for those of us who haven't had much practice in doing it, is that we can feel hostile and combative when we do it, as though we're being aggressive. There's a chasm of difference between assertion and aggression, in both the delivery and the receiving, yet we so often confuse the two. When we stand up for ourselves and what we believe in, we can do so respectfully, honestly, mindfully, and calmly, with an open-mindedness and willingness to negotiate if need be and to acknowledge conflicting views--that's assertion. Once again, do not be afraid of the banal. One of my children thinks applause is the funniest thing on Earth. When I asked why, they said, Well, it's like people just take those soft flappy bits at the end of their arms and whack them together and somehow that means `well done'! And when one person starts, the whole room joins in! How is that not hilarious? Life is strange, and far too important to be taken too seriously. Centering Your Perspective Part of successfully harnessing humor lies in our ability to step outside of ourselves, trying to look at yourself the way you'd look at a friend or colleague with the exact same set of issues, and then through this trying to find an unexpected outsider's perspective.

Humor is cyclic in the sense that it requires us to step partially outside our regular perspective, but also helps us discover a new one entirely. Without these changes in perspective, we couldn't flip the way we look at things from destructive to constructive, from hopeless to motivated. You could give me a thousand dollars, she replied quickly. Then after a moment she said, No, BDJ, I'm not calling you to ask you for money. I mean, if you did want to give me a grand it would make my immediate life a lot easier, but that's not your gig. I know that. So what can I do to help? I asked again. Tell me something, she said with a heavy sigh. Tell me I have a future. Give me some hope. You have a future, I said flatly. Communication is kept friendly, body language is relaxed with eye contact, and we genuinely listen to hear. We don't want to win to the detriment of another, we simply want to affirm our beliefs and opinions, and not compromise ourselves in the process. Aggression is a whole different beast, and it's what happens when someone exerts their rights to get the outcome they desire in an overbearing, pushy, exhausting, sarcastic, sometimes humiliating, intimidating, and violent manner. Talking over others, a dedication to getting our own way, threatening, puffing out our chest to make ourselves bigger, wild gesticulating, and invading someone else's mental and physical space are hallmarks of harmful aggressive behavior. And let's not forget about passive aggression, as it doesn't feel like either of those two--it almost feels harmless, but it's detrimental nonetheless, and perhaps more common. If, throughout our lives, standing up for ourselves and expressing our needs was frowned upon, discouraged, or even inhibited, then we might find it a real struggle to do those things. When we opt out of standing up for ourselves and expressing our needs, we might find ourselves engaging in passive-aggressive behavior as a way to express our upset: indirectly expressing hostility by sulking, procrastinating, or offering that shrill I'm fine when we're anything but; What's so interesting about passive aggression is that we use it to avoid confrontation, but it nearly always results in confrontation or the dissolution of a relationship, because it can create mental or emotional harm, as well as ambiguity.

If we consider which we'd rather be on the receiving end of, assertion or aggression, assertion probably ranks highest for us all because it's the clearest and kindest. It's something to bear in mind when we consider how we communicate our boundaries to others. As perspective is the hinge upon which humor swings, let us take a closer look at it. Imagine for a second that you work for a manager who you believe, for one reason or another, doesn't like you. Sure, sometimes they say nice things, but they're just being fake for corporate correctness, you tell yourself. They also seem to constantly pick at every little thing you do, as if you aren't good enough, while they are the ones always complaining while you're working to get stuff done! Now imagine you get laid off. Surely they had it out for you, despite their reassurances otherwise. Or maybe you simply aren't good enough. Now let's reframe things. Let's rewind. You're back at the beginning, working for this same manager. She laughed. I already got that text from you. That's not what I meant. I understand what you meant, I said, cutting her off. I'm telling you that you do have a future. There is an ending to the present you. You will get to the other side of this. But I want you to tell me: what's the future you want?

A thousand dollars, she answered. What's the longer term future you want? Being assertive does not equal being aggressive, but it can feel aggressive if it's passive aggression we're used to. Making Space for Who We Are and What We Need It's OK to have boundaries. It's more than OK to build support systems, safety nets, space around and inside of ourselves. It's practical and does wonders for our health, happiness, relationships, and self-confidence to have emotional, mental, and physical limits. But oddly, it can often feel far from OK. The boundaries we create protect our identity and make room for all that's important to us. We might not realize it, but we all hold a vision of who we are and who we'd like to be. It starts when we're younger, with When I'm eighteen, I'm going to [insert exciting plans here]. Our aspirations don't always pan out how we'd envisioned, but we tend to have a plan with a time frame in our mind's eye. Although your relationship must be professional, they occasionally go out of their way to say nice things to you. Although they're distant, you know they're probably just busy, and you can tell they care at least a bit; That is without question; You find that you can speak to them somewhat freely, and through this create an engaging dialogue of constructive criticism. Now imagine you get laid off. Yeah, that sucked, but you needed a brief vacation anyways. You were kind of shocked at first, but your manager reassured you that it really wasn't your fault; You know you've learned a lot during your time here, especially thanks to your manager's advice.