Assertiveness: How to Maintain A Toxic-Free Ecosystem



What if your mental health was an island?


Stop, for a moment, and breathe. Imagine you’re on your own private island. You, personally, have watered every shrub, planted every tree, placed every bench. In your time as groundskeeper, grass has wilted and flowers have been trampled, but overall, you’ve managed to maintain your little piece of paradise. You’ve made it your own.

Now, you invite someone onto your island. During their stay, litter starts to appear. You offer to help them pick some up. But a few cans turn into armfuls of trash-bags. You’re flurrying around your island, trying to maintain it, but you just don’t have enough time now with the extra cleaning duties. So what do you do? How do you maintain the integrity of your island?


“You’ve got your own junk, they’ve got their junk—you need to decide how much of their junk you want to help with.” -- JaidenAnimations

Now replace the island with your mental health, and the litter with the stress a relationship is having on you. The scenario was based off an analogy made by JaidenAnimations, first brought up in her video called “Things about Relationships I wish someone had told me about". Does it sound familiar? You’re not alone.


So what would you do if someone was littering your island? How do you determine the relationship is toxic—that you have to kick them off of your island?


Your ecosystem depends on you using assertiveness, the key to administering the law of your land.



Assertiveness is the happy medium between being passive and aggressive. When you’re passive, you let other people’s needs trump your own; when you’re aggressive, you are so focused on your own needs that you deny others theirs. Being assertive means being upfront about what you want and need, while still considering the rights, wants, and needs of others.


AGGRESSIVE: “How dare you litter! Get off my island and never come back!”


PASSIVE: “Oh… I guess I can hold this trash for you!”


Assertiveness is a great practice for everyday life—so much so that HU has a whole package about it up on our website. You can look there for elaboration on the topic, including roleplay situations to mentally practice your responses.


In a nutshell, the tools to practice assertiveness are as follows:


Use clear and confident phrases. Use “I need you to stop littering my island” instead of “It would probably be better if you didn’t litter my island”.


Use “I” statements. Instead of saying “Obviously, you’re mad at me for not helping you with your litter”, you can say, “I think you’re mad at me for not helping; is this true?”. This avoids putting words in their mouth—you’re respecting their needs, while also voicing your concern.


Express empathy. Oftentimes, people are passive because they understand where the other person is coming from and don’t want to bother them. Your perspective deserves to be heard, too—while also acknowledging the other party’s perspective. For example, “It sounds like you’re overwhelmed with all of this litter. I understand.”


Learn to say no. If you’re overwhelmed, you have the right to refuse or reschedule helping someone. Tell them to take their litter elsewhere.


Know when to escalate. Confrontation can be done in a polite way. Catch them littering after you asked them not to? Tell them again, firmly.


“You deserve clean air.”-- JaidenAnimations

You are responsible for your own happiness—your own ecosystem. By practicing self-care, your life-sustaining plants are watered and pruned to grow. You may elect to help someone else with their ecosystem. But you are not responsible for theirs—only yours.


On your island, your assertiveness acts as a formal, no-nonsense notice to the person to stop littering. You set a clear boundary about what you can deal with. If they change, great! If not, you may be dealing with a toxic relationship. After all, they’re poisoning the island you invested your life in, even after being warned.


Once you get them out of your orbit, you just might have enough time to stop, for a moment, and breathe.



Healthy U is a group of peer support educators at the University of Manitoba.

We operate under Student Support through the Health and Wellness Office

Health Packages

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Spotify

HealthyUofM