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  • Writer's pictureCarling Mashinter, MSc., RP

Let's Be Clear About Boundaries

Over the next month, we are focusing on boundaries and assertiveness. We understand assertiveness as analogous to clarity. In order to be clear, we must understand what is okay and what is not okay for us. There can be a number of reasons why we struggle with boundaries, and one of the main ones being: how do I communicate my boundaries with another person? So let’s talk about that.

First thing’s first, you must ask yourself - what the heck am I not okay with? Have you ever had a time where you said “yes” to something, but then while doing it, you had a pit in your stomach or a sense of dread come up? Have you ever felt a gross feeling afterwards or maybe a feeling of exhaustion that you didn’t expect? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you probably overrode your own boundaries by agreeing to do something when it wasn’t actually okay for you to do so.

Listen, this happens to all of us from time-to-time. Sometimes you may think it is okay, then afterwards, you learned that this needs to be something you say “no” to in the future. However, there can be situations when you say “yes” multiple times even though you know at some level that it is not really something that you are okay with. Perhaps it requires a lot of energy from you, and you don’t have extra energy to give right now. Maybe you worry that the person will get mad at you if you say “no”. Sometimes maybe you are concerned that you will get judged as a “mean or difficult” person if you don’t say “yes”.

If these barriers to boundaries ever occur for you, we want to remind you that boundaries are required for healthy and effective relationships. Boundaries are not only essential in romantic relationships, but also family, friends, work - really anyone that you spend time with. This means that you, yourself, have to recognize the importance of setting YOUR OWN boundaries and that it is completely okay to do so.

Okay cool, but how do I set them? Once you have done some reflecting and know more about the boundaries that you need to set, it is time to initiate a conversation with the other person. We love the approach of “hey, do you have a few minutes to chat?” or “when are you free to chat this week, I have a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about?” It is very helpful to make sure that you are in a grounded, calm headspace and so is the other person when having this conversation. This reduces the risk of the conversation being overtaken by nervous and/or angry energy.

When telling the other person about your boundary, it is helpful to be as clear as possible about the situation and the impact it has on you. For example, “hey sister, when you regularly ask to borrow things from me, but then do not return them when you say you will, I feel quite hurt. Can you make sure to return them on time from now on?” Being clear and particular about the situation reduces the risk of you coming across critical and may help the other person understand your boundary more effectively. We strongly recommend to refrain from being critical like “you never return my stuff, you always take too long to return things”. Using words like “always” and “never” often get interpreted as criticism and risk the other person responding with defensiveness.

Maintaining your boundary is also super important. If the other person continues to step over your boundary after you spoke to them about it, it is helpful to share the consequence(s). Let’s go back to the previous example, the sister continues to take too long to return what she borrowed, “hey sister, we spoke a couple of weeks ago about how I am not okay with you taking longer than you agreed upon to return my stuff. I am still feeling quite hurt about this. If you continue to do this, I will no longer lend you my belongings.” Remind yourself that it is okay to set these boundaries and that it is up to the other person to either respect your boundary or experience the consequence of their decision not to.

We know that these conversations can be difficult and sometimes cause tension with the people that you care about. If you need additional support, reach out to a relational therapist to help address the challenges and improve boundary setting.

If you are interested to learn more about boundaries and assertiveness, check out our latest episode on the Relationship Matters podcast


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