Three Steps to Better Boundaries

By Joanna B, M.Sc., RP, RMFT

It can be hard to say No.

Standing up for oneself and setting boundaries with others is a common goal for clients in counselling.

Our clients often share their struggle to refuse requests from others and to maintain appropriate boundaries.

A few challenging situations for people who struggle to say No:

  • Being asked for money (either a loan or gift)
  • Being asked to fulfill a favour request
  • Being subjected to abusive or belittling behaviours by a partner or family member

Why is it so hard to say No?

Success in reaching this goal is often tied to a person’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Family history can be a relevant factor.

Did you know?

  • Being a caregiver in your family while growing up makes it more likely that you’ll fall back into this role later in life, which could lead to prioritizing the needs of others to the detriment of yourself.
  • Being a victim of abuse or bullying in childhood can skew your perception of appropriate boundaries and impair your ability to consider and address your own needs.

Three steps to setting boundaries

Practice is integral in improving the ability to set boundaries with others and to develop a healthier sense of self-worth. The key to success is to take small steps towards change, starting with these:

  1. First, express yourself in front of a mirror without an audience. This might include saying No or refusing a request.
  2. Then, try expressing yourself in less threatening situations, such as voicing dissatisfaction and modifying an order at a restaurant or returning an item to a store.
  3. Always consider in advance the environment and situation where you might wish to set future limits. Put a plan in place for that situation so you can express yourself with confidence and respect for your boundaries.

Developing confidence in expressing yourself with others about day-to-day needs and decisions provides a foundation for when more challenging situations arise. Practice these steps, and you’ll be more comfortable setting limits that serve you well.