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Drawing the Line in the Sand: Boundary Setting (Part 1)

“Boundaries. What are those?” That was the first question I had for my therapist when she asked about how I set boundaries with those in my life.

My interpretation of boundaries is that they are ways we communicate to others what we are comfortable with or not and what we need. Boundaries can be put into 4 groups:

  1. Soft: this can also be known as permissible boundaries where we allow others to determine the lines of the boundaries for us
  2. Spongy: this is a mix between soft and rigid boundaries where an individual can become unsure of what to let in or keep out
  3. Rigid: this can be thought of like having a wall that doesn’t allow anyone in
  4. Flexible: this type of boundary setting involves an individual who takes control over what they allow in or keep out

 

Different boundaries can be set for different relationships. Setting boundaries can be thought of as “how do we ask for what we need or say ‘no’ when we need to?” Here are some things to consider when it comes to setting boundaries:

 

  • When to assert and keep asking for what you need (if your answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, then ask more firmly):

    • Is the person able to give you what you want?
    • Is what you want appropriate to the current relationship?
    • Will not asking for what you want keep the peace now but create problems in the long run?
    • What have you done for the person? Are you giving at least as much as you ask for? Are you willing to give if the person says yes?
    • Do you know all the facts you need to know to support your request? Are you clear about what you want?
    • Is this a good time to ask? Is the person “in the mood” for listening and paying attention to you? Are you catching the person when he or she is likely to say yes to your request?

 

  • When to say ‘no’ (if your answers are ‘no’ to these questions, assert your ‘no’):

    • Will saying no make you feel bad about yourself, even when you are thinking about it wisely?
    • Are you required to give the person what he or she is asking for? Would saying no violate the other person’s rights?
    • Does the person have authority over you (e.g., your boss, your teacher)? And is what the person is asking within his or her authority?
    • Is what the person is asking for appropriate to your current relationship?
    • Is giving in to keep the peace right now more important than the long-term welfare of the relationship? Will you eventually regret or resent saying no?
    • Do you owe this person a favour? Does he or she do a lot for you?
    • Is the other person’s request clear? Do you know what you are agreeing to?
    • Is this a bad time to say no? Should you hold off answering for a while?

 

In part 2 and 3 of this blog, we’ll be talking about how to ask for what you need and how to say ‘no’. It can be helpful to have a therapist to support with these skills as they can help you practice and give you feedback to improve in asking for what you need and saying ‘no’ when you need to.

Written by Vivian Zhang, Clinical Therapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

To learn more about how we can support you with parenting concerns, contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Content from this blog post is adapted from DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets (Linehan, 2015).