Boundary Setting and Seeing
April 17

Boundary Setting and Seeing

Learn the art of establishing and maintaining boundaries in relationships. Drawing insights from Brené Brown, you may confidently identify and assert your needs, navigate responses to others’ boundaries with grace, and embrace deeper introspection. Empower your relationships by building connections grounded in self-care and mutual respect.

— By Jessica Pacheco —

About the Author Jessica PachecoPronouns:She/Her

Jessica obtained her Masters of Social Work degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wilfrid Laurier University; majoring in Youth and Children studies. Jessica is a registered member of the Ontario College of Social Work and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) and is also a member of the Canadian Association of Social Work (CASW).

Boundaries are an important part of any relationship. There are times where setting boundaries feels difficult. When setting boundaries in our relationships, we may catch ourselves thinking, “but how is this going to make my partner feel?” When we are new to setting boundaries, it can feel super uncomfortable. This may be especially true for those of us who are prone to people pleasing, as we feel like we could disappoint our partner. As author Brené Brown once said:

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.

Within this blog, we will review what boundaries can look like, setting boundaries within relationships, and what to do when your partner sets boundaries with you.

What is a Boundary?

When we talk about setting or improving our boundaries, it is important to look at the three different types of boundaries and their traits.

First, we have rigid boundaries. This type of boundary often looks like hyper-independence. When we have rigid boundaries, we often: avoid asking others for help, keep others at a distance, and may avoid intimacy and close connections.

Second, we have porous boundaries. This type of boundary can often be described as the people pleasing behaviours. When we have porous boundaries, we find it difficult to say “no”, and may feel fearful of rejecting others.

Thirdly, we have healthy boundaries, this type of boundary can be described as the compromise between rigid and porous boundaries. It often looks like knowing and advocating for our personal wants and needs, without giving too much of ourselves away. It requires vulnerability and courage to express our needs while respecting the needs of others. Healthy boundaries involve clear communication, assertiveness, and a balance between empathy and self-care. With healthy boundaries, we can maintain meaningful connections without sacrificing our own well-being. It’s about recognizing our own value and setting limits that honour our worth, while respecting the autonomy and boundaries of those around us. Refining our healthy boundaries is an ongoing process that involves self-awareness, self-reflection, and practice.

How to Set Boundaries

When we get to a point where we need to or want to set boundaries the first thing is to consider what it is that you value.

Once we have figured out what we value and how that structures our boundaries, the next step is figuring out how to set them. Here are a few things to be mindful of when setting boundaries.

  1. Be prepared: going into a conversation where we are discussing our needs can be uncomfortable. Try writing down your points before going into the conversation. This will allow you to externalize your thoughts. Writing our your ideas can also act as prompts if you feel stuck in the conversation. A great way to use this in conversations may sound something like, “I am feeling a little stuck right now, I have some points written down that I am going to pull out that might help me communicate this more clearly.”
  2. Consider timing: the best time to set a boundary is when all people involved feel relaxed and have capacity to focus on the conversation. If you are mid-argument, try other tools that facilitate regulating emotions and then circle back to the conversation pertaining to setting boundaries or reinforcing boundaries.
  3. Consider the delivery:  When delivering a boundary, we want to ensure that we are using our most effective communication skills. Using “I” statements, and avoiding “you” statements can go a long way, here! A great example may be, “I feel overwhelmed most evenings after work and need an hour of alone time before engaging.” By using this type of statement, it tells the other person what we are feeling, why we are feeling it, and the boundary we are setting.
How to Maintain Boundaries

When we set boundaries, that is the first step; the second is to maintain and enforce the boundary. When we do this, it might deter intentional or unintentional boundary crossing. One way to ensure our boundaries are being maintained is to restate your needs. When we state our needs we want to be clear and concise, as well as clarifying to make sure the person we are setting boundaries with understands them. We also want to make sure that we have “consequences” for when our boundaries are not being heard. This could look like stating something along the lines of “if this continues, I am going to have to leave this conversation.” When stating these, be sure that the outcome is something you are willing to follow through on.

How to Respect Boundaries

Setting boundaries is on thing, it is another when someone sets a boundary with you. When others set boundaries with us, it could trigger a range of emotions. Some of us may immediately questions our actions, wondering if we’ve done something wrong. Others might feel a sense of rejection, interpreting the boundary as a sign that the person doesn’t want to be around us. These reactions, especially prevalent in people with anxious attachment styles, can be harmful as they may be distorting our understanding of the situation.

When someone sets a boundary with us, and these kind of anxious thoughts come up, it is important to remember that each person processes and experiences emotions differently. When faced with someone else’s boundary, it’s essential to refrain assuming the worst about ourselves. Instead, initiating a conversation about needs can be immensely beneficial. Asking, “What do you need from me?” can serve as a constructive starting point for navigating boundaries and the emotions surrounding them.

It also can be helpful to remind ourselves that the individual setting the boundary is doing so for their own well-being. If their boundary doesn’t align with our needs, expressing our own requirements and exploring potential compromises is worthwhile. However, it’s equally important to accept the possibility that the other person may not be willing to adjust their boundary.

Seeking support from a trained professional is another effective strategy for managing anxious thoughts stemming from boundary-setting situations. Deep-seated beliefs, attachment styles, or past traumas may underlie these reactions, necessitating further exploration and examination. Professional guidance can provide a safe and supportive environment for addressing and challenging these ingrained patterns of thinking.

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