Setting boundaries and learning to say no

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Written by Sarah Davies

Registered Psychologist

Posted: Apr 26 2022

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve said yes to plans when we don’t have the time, or agreed to something that we actually don’t want to do.

Setting healthy boundaries can be a great form of self-care, and helps to let others know how you would like to be treated.

Setting boundaries

What is a boundary?

A boundary is a dividing line. In relationships, your personal boundaries communicate to others your emotional and physical limits, and express the behaviours you will and won’t accept.

You choose who you let in, how you distribute your time, energy and love. Your boundary lines can change depending on your individual needs at the time, and the reserves that you have in your “giving tank” in any particular moment.

Examples of setting boundaries:

  • How to respect you, e.g. please text before dropping in.
  • How you prefer to spend your time, e.g. I’m not available tomorrow but I could help you next Wednesday.
  • Physical energy, e.g. I need to be in bed by 9:30pm so I can get up early for the gym tomorrow.
  • How to respect your physical and emotional safety, e.g. don’t hit your brother, we don’t tolerate violence in this house.
  • What is important to you, e.g. my family comes first so I need to leave this meeting by 3pm so I can pick up my children from school.

While this seems like a reasonable thing to do, setting boundaries can sometimes be misunderstood and interpreted to be mean or selfish, designed to keep people away and only be about saying no.

Why setting boundaries is an act of self-care

Boundaries are a kind and helpful form of communication that you can offer to another person. You are giving them direct instructions about your needs and limits.

People who communicate their boundaries value themselves, and their time, energy and needs, and the needs of others.

Try using assertive communication by integrating, “I” statements. These allow you to take responsibility for your feelings, while also respectfully communicating the impact that the issue has on you.

For example; “I feel hurt when you don’t acknowledge my contribution to the project in team meetings and what I’d like is for you to make sure others know that we have worked on this together as a joint-effort.”

Some people may happily respect your boundaries, but it’s important to be prepared that others may be offended or test your boundary limits.

Remember that you can only control how you communicate your boundaries, you can’t control the reactions or behaviours of others.


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Posted: Apr 26 2022

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