Thompson Rivers University

Establishing healthy boundaries

March 8, 2021

Learn more about how to establish healthy personal boundaries in your relationships.

Setting personal boundaries is often a bittersweet experience. You want to respect your instincts and needs, but you don’t want to hurt feelings.

When it comes to our relationships, we want to be helpful, supportive and available, but we also want to be mindful of potential burnout. Balancing our own goals, responsibilities and self-care with whatever our family, friends, classmates, professors and employers expect of us can be tricky. Establishing boundaries can feel like you are mean, hurtful or insensitive, when in reality, if you express your feelings in a kind, honest and direct way, you are honouring yourself and the relationship you want to nurture.

Here’s the thing: you deserve to feel comfortable, you deserve to feel heard and you deserve friends who are willing to listen to your feedback.

Counsellor Susan Butland recommends being patient with yourself. “Assertiveness takes time; you might need to practice a little. There’s always room for repair.” 

If you speak your truth in an empathetic and thoughtful manner, you might even be helping the individual who might not be aware that they are potentially causing upset. 

“Sometimes, as caretakers, we misread assertiveness as being mean. But if we use words of compassion, it can help set healthy boundaries that can be beneficial to all parties,” she says.

Butland recommends prefacing the conversation to build some trust. In terms of handling a situation, she recommends discussing the issue in a way that feels neutral. When trying to establish a boundary, mention it during a positive moment. If that individual encroaches on those boundaries down the track, this is an opportunity to reaffirm your message: “Remember that conversation we had the other day? This is the kind of moment I was referring to. Let’s talk about this.”

Establishing healthy personal boundaries

  1. Express the value of the individual/ how you appreciate their friendship

“I like spending time with you.”

“We have a lot of fun together.”

“You are such a kind and caring person.”

2. Establish the boundary. 

“In order for me to feel safe, I need ___________.”

“I enjoy your company, but I’m not comfortable with physical touch.”

3. Invite the individual to move forward in a renewed way 

“Can we talk about other ways to express our appreciation for each other?”

“This is what I need; what do you need?”

4. Acknowledge their reaction — check in on their response. 

“I am getting the sense that you feel hurt/sad/upset/frustrated by the boundary I have set. My intention is to be honest and authentic in our relationship and setting boundaries is one way for me to do that.”

Connect with Counselling Services to learn more academic, social and personal strategies and supports.

Explore the Wellness Centre playlist for lots of video resources.

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