Just Say "No"

Boundaries are limits that separate actions, words, emotions, and sensations that we consider safe, appropriate, appreciated, and welcome, from things we do not consider acceptable. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual. Everyone has different boundaries and only you can define your personal limits. Boundaries are often established through a combination of our upbringing, perceptions, values, goals, reactions, and concerns.

Setting boundaries begins with defining your values – what is important to you? What are you comfortable with? Next, you must work on asserting boundaries through clear and firm verbal and non-verbal communication about what is appropriate and what is “out of bounds.” Finally, you must take responsibility and make decisions that honour your boundaries.

Healthy versus Unhealthy Boundaries

Boundaries are divided into two main categories: healthy and unhealthy. Accepting someone’s unwanted advances because you are afraid of hurting their feelings or making them mad at you is an example of an unhealthy boundary. Saying “no” in this scenario – for any reason, with any justification – is an example of a healthy boundary. Staying late at work to the point of exhaustion because you are hoping to impress for a raise is another example of an unhealthy boundary. Snooping through your partner’s phone is an indication of an unhealthy boundary. A healthy boundary, in this case, would be respecting your partner’s right to privacy despite your curiosity.

What is the importance of personal boundaries?

At their most basic form, boundaries are a means of protecting personal safety and security. Boundaries go further than that, however. They are a means of self-definition, self-actualization and empowerment. Understanding what you are willing to tolerate from others – and what you are willing to give in return – plays a large part in establishing a healthy sense of well-being and control. At the same time, boundaries are not static. Healthy boundaries need maintenance, otherwise others may fail to respect or honour our boundaries, or we ourselves fail to defend them.

Personal Boundary Violations

When we think of personal boundary violations, the first thing that comes to mind is a violation of intrusion, when a boundary is breached. Violations of intrusions range from a question that makes you uncomfortable (“When are you finally going to have a baby?”) to inappropriate touching to attempts to shape your thoughts, beliefs, or behaviour. Of equal significance are violations of distance, which is a failure to honour expectations/needs of intimacy or personal space.

Setting boundaries is a life skill. Like any other life skills, from cooking to knitting, it can be practiced and continually improved. Speak with your Ottawa therapist to learn more about the importance of setting boundaries.