Setting Boundaries

Personal boundaries can be murky- they vary from person to person and occasionally from situation to situation. Even though personal boundaries can be challenging to navigate, learning how to set and communicate them allows you to prioritize your health and wellbeing. 

Take time to reflect on what you want and don’t want in different situations (e.g. work, friendships, romantic relationships).  The key to setting boundaries is first figuring out what you want from your various relationships and setting boundaries based on those desires. Once you know your boundaries, it is important to share them with others (remember that no one is a mindreader and might have different boundaries than you). Here are some tips on how to confidently and respectfully communicate your expectations:

  • Be assertive. Be firm and use clear, non-negotiable language. You can use “I statements” to make sure that you letting others know what you need and why instead of focussing on the actions of others (i.e. I feel overwhelmed after school/work and need time to myself before I can socialize vs. You need to give me space when I get home).

  • Use “No” as a complete sentence. You don’t always need to justify your decision. If someone asks you to cover a shift or to take on another project, say no without an excuse or explanation.

  • Protect your time. Remote learning and work have blurred a lot of boundaries, enforce them by designating work/study hours, setting cut-off times for responding to emails/texts or using the do not disturb features on your devices. You can share those times with others to help them be respected (e.g. let your supervisor know when they can expect to receive responses from you or let your roommates know when you are studying so they know not to interrupt).

  • Remember, you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. If it upset them, know it is their problem. Plan on it, expect it but remain firm. Remember, your behaviour must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologizing. 

  • Get assistance or support. If setting boundaries was easy, we wouldn’t be sharing this article and some situations are more complicated than others. If you’re experiencing challenges with setting or asserting boundaries, or if someone is causing you difficulty by crossing them, never hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional- you can book an appointment with Student Health and Wellness counsellors or connect with 

Male student sitting on couch looking towards a female in the foreground