establishing your boundaries to make it clear to others

It can be hard to create boundaries, in part because we don’t always know what our boundaries are. However, you know someone has bumped up against one of your boundaries when you start to feel uncomfortable in response to something someone has said or done.

Boundaries are not only about establishing what we don’t like. They are also about communicating what we do like!

Below are some guidelines to help you create/establish your boundaries:

Ask yourself, what are my boundaries?

In order to set a boundary you need to consider what you feel is acceptable/unacceptable in terms of how others interact with you. For example, someone might call you a nickname that makes you feel upset. Do you want the person to stop? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Is it the nickname or the person using the nickname? Do you know why it makes you feel tense?

To determine your boundaries try completing one or more of the following statements:

  • “When someone __________, it makes me feel __________. What I would like instead is for people to __________.”
  • “It’s not ok for people to __________, it makes me feel __________”. 
  • “I deserve to be treated with __________ because __________”.
  • “To feel comfortable and supported, it’s ok to ask people to __________.”
  • “I feel respected/loved/sexy when __________”.

Some boundaries are really clear to us, while others are not. It’s normal to feel unsure about our boundaries. This is because, depending on the situation, who we’re with, what has happened before, and factors like age, gender, race, ability, etc., our boundaries might differ.

Get curious and reflect on the following to help determine your boundaries.

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What is my body trying to tell me?  Do your shoulders tense up when someone does something specific? Does your stomach ache when __________ type of person does __________? Do you go numb or check out in certain situations
  • Do you switch to negative self-talk in your head?  e.g., “They won’t like me if I don’t __________”.  e.g., “I will always be alone if I don’t __________”.

Want to dig a little deeper? Check out PsychCentral’s blogpost: How to figure out your boundaries

Establish, one boundary at a time.

Establishing your boundaries may feel overwhelming. Explore and set out your boundaries at a pace that feels comfortable to you.

Have a look at our [types of boundaries] to pick out which area you might want to work on first.  You can make a list and choose which boundaries you want to gradually keep building. Give yourself time to reflect on what it’s like setting that boundary and if you need to make any changes to it.

Remember, different relationships may require different boundaries.

Boundaries can look very different depending on the person and your relationship.

For example, you may have flexible boundaries with an intimate partner and more rigid boundaries with family and/or coworkers. When it comes to family members, boundaries depend on the overall family dynamics, and may be more of a challenge.

We all negotiate when, how, and if, it is safe to express our boundaries. Sometimes we might feel it’s not safe. In this kind of situation we may need to figure out other ways to maintain our dignity. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a boundary, it just means you needed to prioritize your safety.

It is never your fault if someone chooses to violate your boundaries.

Express yourself.

Communication is critical in the world of boundaries and is not limited to speaking up. Check out our EXPRESS YOURSELF page for some ideas on the different ways to communicate your boundaries.

You might find that you have to re-iterate, repeat or remind people of your boundaries. Notice if people are making the effort to respect your boundaries or correct any harm they have caused. If individuals do not respect boundaries, you have every right to limit or end contact with them.

Realize that it takes practice and patience.

Remember that it is not about being perfect, boundaries often need to be tested out and reset a number of times. Over time you may find that you want to change them.

Check out the Anti-Violence Project’s Blog for more!

Or check out these articles for more perspectives on creating boundaries:

Jezebel: How to set boundaries with people you love
Bustle: 9 Boundaries you need to set up in your relationship
Bustle: 9 Boundaries you should have in your friendships