Understanding Boundaries: What they Are and Why they Matter

woman holding up hand and saying stop. She learned to set healthy boundaries at Oakridge Counselling in London Ontario

Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves for what we are willing and not willing to do, as well as what we will and will not tolerate from others. They can be physical or emotional and vary from person to person.

For example, a physical boundary may be not allowing someone to hug you without your consent, while an emotional boundary may be not allowing someone to speak to you in a certain way.

Boundaries are important because they help us to maintain our sense of self and protect our emotional health. They also help us to build healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. By communicating our boundaries clearly we can create a sense of safety and security in our relationships.

Setting and maintaining boundaries, like saying “no” when your answer is “no” or telling a friend how it affects you when [fill in the blank] happens and what you prefer instead, can be hard for many women.

Is it hard for you to say no?

Do you distance yourself in friendships when you can’t talk about a problem?

How often do you say when your answer is really no?

Boundary problems bring lots of women to counselling. Not wanting to say “no” and not speaking up about something because doing so might create conflict, is a boundary problem. Many of the women I work with say “I’m not a good communicator” instead of “I’m not good with boundaries.” When it’s clear to me that they are very good communicators. Here’s my personal example:

A good friend of mine once said to me, “you don’t say no to me very often but, you cancel our plans a lot. So when you say yes, I’ve started making backup plans in case you cancel.” Ouch! My friend gave me a gift that day, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. As we talked more about it, I realized that she was right. Until I started saying no, my yes was only a maybe. Maybe I would do the thing, or maybe I would cancel, but why couldn’t I say no?

Why couldn’t I say no?

I couldn’t say no because I didn’t want her to think I didn’t like spending time with her? Clearly it wasn’t working. My friend WAS disappointed when I cancelled, she did feel like I didn’t want to spend time with her AND she felt awful trying to figure out why I wouldn’t talk to her about what was going on for me. Yuck, right?

Me saying yes, instead of no or even maybe, was me “putting the pain in mail” (you know the old snail mail, kinda mail?) to avoid saying no and feeling bad in the moment. While it allowed me to avoid feeling badly in the moment it only delayed the hurt for both of us. I am still embarrassed to admit that I sometimes behave like this. So if you’re feeling badly for similar things, please know you are in good company and you will not be judged by me.

If you would like some help with boundaries, I would love to meet with you. I offer a Free 15 minute Consult Call for all NEW Clients. This call gives you a chance to see how you feel talking with me and to ask a few questions.

Read More About Elizabeth Lacey MSW RSW here

Oakridge Counselling London Ontario offers In-person, Phone and Online Counselling, Walk & Talk Therapy, Walk & Talk for Wellness Group, Clinical Supervision & Consultation and Therapy in London Ontario.

I highly recommend the book on boundaries
“Set Boundaries Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself”
by Nedra Glover Tawwab