You may have expanded your social circle since entering Step 2

of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen, so now could be a good time to consider revisiting your boundaries. Personal boundaries are the rules we set for ourselves within our relationships to feel comfortable and safe. While it can be exciting to reunite and spend more time with those we have dearly missed, it is important to prioritize your needs and to protect your limits through relations with others. Whether it is your roommate eating your food, your neighbour picking your flowers, or your friend demanding your attention while you are engaged in other obligations, setting healthy boundaries can help foster your mental health and well-being. Learn how to get started below!

Advantages of Healthy Boundaries:
  • Feeling less anger
  • Feeling less resentment
  • Having time and energy to do the things that bring you joy and nourishment
  • Experiencing feelings of peace and safety
  • Prevents conflict in relationships
  • Improves communication
  • Increases confidence and self esteem
  • Reduces feelings of anxiety and stress
  • Having mutually meaningful and compassionate relationships
  • Being more self-aware and in tune with your needs
  • Protects from overexertion and promotes independence
Identifying Boundaries

Graphic from Healthline

The first step of setting boundaries is to recognize what is important to you and to understand what makes you feel stressed or uncomfortable. It can take practice to put yourself first, as it can come with feelings of guilt, but it is essential to self-care. 

Did you walk away from a conversation with a friend and feel tense or unnerved? Did you leave a date feeling distressed or annoyed? Chances are a boundary of yours was crossed. Take yourself back to that moment and think about what triggered you to experience such emotions or physical symptoms (racing heart, clenched fist, sweating). Moving forward, put a boundary in place to keep future interactions within the limits you deem as appropriate.

EXAMPLES OF HEALHY BOUNDARIES

  • Not checking or sending work e-mails on your days off
  • Establishing a start and end time for social gatherings
  • Having a clear understanding of the chores and duties you and your partner are each responsible for in the household
  • Asking people to knock before entering your space to respect your privacy
  • Only being emotionally available to a friend when you are in the right headspace to offer support
communicating boundaries

People are not mind readers so it cannot be expected for someone to know how you feel. 

Do be sensitive to the feelings of others, for you do not want them to think they are unappreciated or unwanted. Boundaries are intended to strengthen relationships and to ensure it is benefitting both parties. A great way to prevent a misunderstanding is to use ‘I’ statements.

Effective Communication Example 1: “I feel violated when you read my journal because I value privacy. What I need is a space that I know is private to record my thoughts.” | Ineffective Communication Example 1: “Keep your hands off my journal!” | Effective Communication Example 2: “I feel overwhelmed when every minute of our vacation is planned. What I need is some time just to relax and see what happens.” | Ineffective Communication Example 2: “You’re making this vacation exhausting, and I don’t want to do all the things you’ve planned.”

Graphic from: Healthline

It is imperative to be assertive in your communication. If you are too flexible with the boundary or beat around the bush, the message may get lost or the receiving party may fail to grasp the seriousness of it, taking it as a loose suggestion rather than an instruction.

Respecting Boundaries

You can’t have your cake and eat it too! If you want your boundaries respected, you must respect the boundaries of others. Pay attention to cues of someone who is experiencing discomfort. This can look like:

  • Moving backwards
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Giving short responses in conversation
  • Nervous gestures (talking fast, laughing)
  • Closed off body language

When in doubt, the best thing you can do is simply ask. After communicating a boundary you would like to have in place, you could use the opportunity to ask if there are any boundaries of theirs you are pushing. Or, if you don’t want to put them in the spot, you can ask permission before proceeding with asking a personal question or going in for a hug. 

A mutually healthy relationship looks like:

Graphic from Jen Moff

maintaining boundaries

Sometimes you may need to remind people of your boundaries or renew them when they have changed. This can mean reassessing their rigidity. If they are too inflexible, you may run the risk of isolating yourself and if they are loose, giving too much of yourself to others. 

One of the biggest challenges for most people is learning how to say no. If someone asks you to do something or invites you somewhere and you are not wanting to partake, say no simply but firmly. Many people find themselves overexplaining to justify their answer, but it is not necessary unless you want to offer some clarification. You have the right to decide what you do and what you do not want to do.

In order to reinforce and maintain boundaries you have put in place, it may be helpful to attach rewards and consequences to behaviour. Rewards incentivize someone to continue with their actions, so if they are being respectful, perhaps you could spend more time with them to value their effort in the relationship. On the flip side, if they make a pattern of overstepping you can tell them you will end the interaction if they aren’t going to respect the boundaries you’ve communicated.

Graphic from Mellow Doodle

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”
Brené Brown

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