Boundaries are essentially an expression of our values. They are based on what’s personally important to us. They enable us to voice to others what we value; helping us to express our identity. Boundaries enable us to live a life which nurtures positive relationships and meaningful experiences.

Healthy boundaries look like:

– Valuing your own opinion

– Prioritising your own needs before others

– Knowing it’s OK to say ‘no’

– Communicating respectfully and effectively

– Sharing information appropriately

– Understanding and respecting limits set by others

– Being able to identify when a boundary has been broken

“Healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care. That’s because “in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead to resentment, anger, and burnout” (Nelson, 2016).”

By having boundaries in place, we are able to weed out negative relationships and identify those people whom we wish to spend our time with. This can protect us from exposure to negative or uncomfortable experiences or interactions with others. We can learn to prioritise time for ourselves (self-care!) and protect, or conserve, our energy. This can lead to greater self-awareness and self-respect. By setting boundaries we can avoid burnout, particularly at work, as we learn what is required to take better care of ourselves in the work environment- including such things like taking breaks, saying no to additional tasks, communicating effectively with colleagues, healthy snacking throughout the day, finishing work on time etc.

What influences our boundaries?

Like many things, the way in which we were raised, and our culture can influence how our boundaries are formed and how they develop. Past relationships and events can shape who we are and what limits we place, or don’t place, on ourselves. Our level of self-awareness and/or self-respect can also play a role in impacting on what our boundaries may look like. Those with lowered self-awareness may struggle more with setting boundaries to protect themselves from negative relationship or experiences. Time is also another factor which influences our boundaries. Our values change with time and as such, our boundaries must be modified to incorporate those things which are now more important to us. They are flexible and can be fluid as we pass through different life stages.

“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin, and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you” (n.d.).

Setting boundaries

Þ Before setting boundaries it’s important to spend some time reflecting on your values, your current relationships, those things which you can tolerate vs/ those ‘non-negotiables’.

Þ We must be realistic when we are setting boundaries; know you cannot change other people’s thoughts/feelings or behaviors and as such, your boundaries shouldn’t be based on these things.

Þ We must be clear when we communicate our boundaries to others – communication should be assertive and firm yet kind and compassionate.

Þ Consistency is key when it comes to living by your boundaries. Being consistent helps to avoid mixed messages and people over-stepping.

Þ If people do overstep your boundaries, it’s important to set consequences. This will help to protect you from entering negative or uncomfortable situations and aid in avoiding resentment or burnout.

Take a look at this thought process for setting a new boundary:

1. I value my health and wellness.

2. I will say no to mid-week after work drinks Monday – Thursday.

3. I will bring my exercise clothes to work and prioritise exercise over drinking.

4. I will say no to some mid-week lunches invitations.

5. I will only go out for lunch with colleagues MAX twice / week. I will prepare lunch at home to bring with me to work 3 days / week.

6. I will tell Susie and the boys at work my new boundaries, explaining that I am focusing on my fitness and wellness for the next 3 months.

7. I will be firm and consistent when communicating this boundary. I will not crumble. I will remain true when there may be external pressure. This is important to me.

I wanted to share this TEDTALK “Good boundaries free you” by Sarri Gilman. Boundaries can take care of you; they can help you to mitigate stress. Sarri talks through a past personal experience whereby she was ignoring her own self-care and wellness and how the need for setting boundaries came about. She speaks about a ‘personal compass’ and the importance of supporting your compass through self-care, building a web of resources, prioritizing your time and practicing letting go.

Wishing you success as you take a moment to reflect on your values and learn the practice of setting boundaries to nurture your relationships, protect yourself from distressing or uncomfortable situations and engage in greater self-care and self-reflection.

Yours in wellness,

Libby McLean

EAP Specialist, Coach and Trainer

Positive MIND Consulting