Emotional boundaries are your personal limits for how much you can take on. You can set them with just about anyone! You can make limits to tell people you don’t have time for something, you’re not ok with talking about a subject, you don’t have energy for something, or just about anything where you’re uncomfortable.
Setting limits can sometimes be hard if you feel like you need to support people you’re close to all the time. But remember that you’re not a bad person for setting limits and explaining them. People usually understand, and a lot of the time, they’re glad you didn’t put yourself through a hard situation.
What are boundaries? How do I set them?
It’s important to know yourself and your limits. If emotional work like hearing about someone’s issue gets too draining, you can set a limit!
Boundaries can also help to control what kind of emotional support people ask you for. So, if talking about something is triggering (makes you feel very uncomfortable or anxious), you can set a boundary to avoid it.
Limits can also change! You can remove a a limit for something that doesn’t make you uncomfortable anymore. When issues or your energy levels change, you can also set new boundaries. You can even set limits for things you said were ok.
Dr. Dana Gionta from Psych Central recommends a step-by-step way to figure out and explain your boundaries for any relationship:
1) Name your limits
These can include any sorts of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual limits that you may have. Remember that you’re not a bad person for having these boundaries!
2) Tune into your feelings
When you’re talking to someone, try and think of how you’re feeling. You can ask yourself…
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how uncomfortable or resentful do you feel about them?
- If your number goes to 6 or above, think about why you’re feeling this much discomfort or resentment.
- When you have an idea of why it might be, think of placing a boundary that will keep you from reaching these higher levels of unease again.
3) Be direct
Tell the person your limits and try to explain why you have them and how they will help you.
4) Give yourself permission to set limits
You might feel guilty for needing to turn down someone close to you. Some people feel like a bad person for saying no when someone they care about comes for help.
Remember to give yourself permission for having your limits, enforcing them, and expecting them to be respected. Having boundaries for yourself is an important part of keeping healthy relationships, and can make them stronger in the long run.
5) Practice self-awareness
Boundaries and limits are a sign of self-respect. They’re a way of knowing your body and honouring how you feel and what you may need. Knowing your limits and enforcing them is a great way to take care of yourself!
6) Think about your past and present
A lot of the time, we pick up habits from people who raised us that just don’t work for us. Sometimes, we haven’t seen what setting a limit looks like, or we see ignoring or not setting boundaries as normal.
Recognizing these can help you see why you might be holding back on setting boundaries, or what kinds of thinking might keep you from recognizing when you’re uncomfortable.
7) Make self-care a priority
You can think of self-care as taking care of yourself like you would a romantic partner or really good friend. That can mean taking time for anything that feels good for you, like taking a walk, having a long bath, or watching a favorite show.
8) Look for support
If you ever feel like you can’t keep emotionally supporting people around you, you might need to take a step back and ask for help. You can ask friends, family, or partners that you trust. You can also consider talk therapy. In Montreal, the Argyle Institute gives lower rates for people who don’t make as much money (see below).
9) Be assertive
Setting boundaries is the first step. Once that’s done, most people need to learn to respect and enforce their boundaries. If people cross a boundary and make you feel uncomfortable, you can let them know! Talking about why it bothered you can help you work together to get through the issue and keep it from happening again.
10) Start small
Don’t worry if setting boundaries doesn’t work on your first try. Self-care is a skill, and it takes practice to learn how to create and defend your limits.
It can take courage to make limits between you and people you care about, but they’re an important part of taking care of yourself. To help get yourself started, try starting with setting some small boundaries, like not being able to go to an event or help with a chore. Then you can work your way up as you learn how to spot places where you’re uncomfortable. Finding and setting your boundaries can get easier with time!