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Setting boundaries for a healthier you

Santé Mentale · 25 juin 2021

Setting healthy boundaries can be beneficial to mental health and well-being. Boundaries can be physical (we are all familiar with social distancing), psychological, or emotional.  They are a reflection of an individual’s identity and are an act of self-compassion. These sets of limits or rules that are established in relationships can be loose or rigid, with the healthiest ones usually falling somewhere in the middle. It is about being able to say “no” and still be open to connection and intimacy with others. But not everyone is familiar with how to start setting these emotional boundaries. Counsellors can help provide guidance as you learn the most comfortable way for you to establish rules and limits with others. TELUS Health MyCare™ offers virtual counselling sessions to help support you on this journey.*

What are boundaries?

Boundaries establish and protect individuality. They indicate what an individual will and will not be responsible for. Identifying one’s limits comes from personal values.  A good way to look at values is to ask oneself, “who is the human that I want to be in this world?” If the behaviours and interactions with others are not aligning with values then a boundary needs to be set.

Sometimes, boundaries are avoided because of fear, lack of clarity about personal limits, or not having the skills to communicate. The family system that a person grows up in and lived experiences can affect the comfort an individual has with boundaries and self-awareness. Avoiding taking ownership and responsibility over one’s life can lead to a number of consequences, including: low self-worth, stress, burnout, poor relationships, anger, and resentment.

The following are some examples of situations where boundaries might be needed:

On social media:  Social media invites people to see into our personal lives. Privacy is important and part of respecting different relationships in life, especially private and professional lives.

At home: Resentment in relationships typically happens from a build up of the small things such as loading or unloading the dishwasher, dealing with kids, time away from each other, laundry, and friends, to name a few.

With friends: Friendship offers love and support in life. Boundaries with the information that is shared between friends (ie. secrets) helps to maintain trust and safety. Setting limits around the amount of time spent together contributes to healthy balance.

At work: Be cautious about saying yes to everything. Overextending creates stress, harbors resentment, and sometimes compromises the ability to do things well. 

How to set boundaries

Say “no”: Saying “no” is surprisingly difficult for many people. There are many different ways that “no” can be expressed beyond just the word. For example:

  • “I am not comfortable with this”

  • “Not at this time but maybe later”

  • “Please don’t do that”

  • “This is not acceptable”

  • “I am not able to do that…”

  • “I will not…”

  • “Let’s discuss timing/priorities…”

The following is an example of how to say “no” at work.

“I appreciate you asking me to join this committee. I have three projects on the go right now and I cannot help at this time. I would be happy to support you in the future and require at least one week advance notice in my calendar.”

“No” is stated respectfully and the expectation is clear for the future.

Assertive communication: Assertive communication is premised on the understanding that both parties are entitled to their perspectives and feelings. The approach is curious, respectful, and does not entail a “winner” in the outcome.  It does not accuse another person of wrongdoing and instead focuses on the personal response to a behaviour or situation that may require a request for change.

The following formula outlines assertive communication:

“I really care about you and….”

“When you” (describe the behaviour, the situation, or a quote)

“I feel” (describe your feeling in response)

“And it makes me…” (describe the impact on you)

Request a change (if necessary).

Here is how it works in practice:

“I really care about you and when you don’t unload the dishwasher on your cleaning day I feel frustrated because I am also tired after a work day but do it when I am supposed to. We agreed to the cleaning schedule and my expectation is that it is followed.  Does that work for you? If not, how can it work better so that we both feel satisfied?”

When healthy boundaries are followed, all parties in a household, work, or community environment feel healthier because there is transparency and clear expectations in relationships. If you would like support on learning how best to set boundaries in your life, consider seeing a TELUS Health MyCare counsellor.

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*Counselling appointments available to TELUS Health MyCare users in BC, AB, and ON. Counselling appointments require additional payment of $120 inclusive of applicable taxes. Users under employer-sponsored solutions will not pay a fee for the service. Any payments for appointments must be paid using a valid credit card. An in-app receipt will be provided for you to claim for reimbursement if applicable.


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