Boundary Setting

Work from Home (WFH) Series No. 13

How would you explain to someone what boundary setting is?  

If it's tough for you to define what boundaries are exactly, don’t worry! You are not the only one, and  hopefully this post can give you a quick rundown on what they are and how they can help you excel at work. We are often introduced to boundaries before we can even fully understand the complexities of them. A huge part of parenting is boundary setting, which you often don't realize until you are a parent yourself! That being said, boundaries can be extremely important for a variety of things, from our mental health, to our identity, relationships and working life. Since they are so widespread across our lives, let's learn a bit more about them and how we can use them for our benefit!

What are boundaries?

In the psychological sense, boundaries are defined as: guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them, and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits [1,2]. In other words, these boundaries are the limits you set for yourself, and are unwavering.

Why do you need boundaries?

Boundaries help our wellbeing by allowing us to stay aligned with our values, and can be seen as a form of self-care [3]. Studies have shown that employees who set clear boundaries report to be happier and more productive [4]. Having healthy boundaries has also shown to have other advantages including but not limited to: good mental and emotional health, improved autonomy, developed self-identity, and limits burnout [1].


What sort of things can you set boundaries on?

Pretty much anything! Since your boundaries reflect your values, there are different kinds of  boundaries like: physical, intellectual, emotional, romantic, material and time boundaries [6]. There are various examples and instances you can use to establish your boundaries. Some examples of these types of boundaries based on the kinds of values expressed above can be something like:

  • How much of your physical space you are willing to share with guests staying in your home.
  • How much you are willing to discuss and/or defend your views on gender equality, politics etc. with other members of your family.
  • How much personal information you feel comfortable telling your boss.
  • How much time you are willing to spend with your partner and time alone with your friends.
  • How much money you are willing to spend on particular items, such as clothes.
  • How late you are willing to reply to work emails.

How can you set and maintain boundaries?

Setting boundaries, and sticking to them can be scary and challenging. Everyone would be sticking to their boundaries if it were that easy! Society has placed value in people who say 'yes' to everything and are then perceived to be successful. With that in mind, setting boundaries often requires you to say 'No', which is why it can be so challenging. In order to respectfully set your boundaries, you will likely have to be assertive (I could write a whole other post about aggressive vs assertive vs passive communication- I will save that for another time!). Being assertive is the middle ground between stating your needs in an aggressive way, and neglecting your needs by communicating them passively (or not saying them at all). Using the above examples, setting boundaries can sound something like this:

  • "I am happy for you to spend most of your day at my house while you visit Toronto, but I think I would like to have my place to myself from 10pm-8am."
  • "I am not willing to discuss my political views and who I am voting for with anyone, I keep that information private."
  • "I don't feel comfortable sharing my grandmother's health condition at work, it is very personal to me."
  • "I would really like to spend a day with just my friend today, she's going through a tough time. Let's book a time next week where we can all hang out together."
  • "I don't think I can afford the bridesmaid dress you asked me to wear for your wedding, I don't feel comfortable spending more than $800 on a dress"
  • "I am sorry I missed your email yesterday, I don't check my work emails beyond 6pm so I can dedicate that time to my family."

What happens when someone crosses those boundaries?

Setting all your boundaries effectively can take a lot of work. You will most likely know when someone crosses your boundaries. When this happens you are likely to feel uncomfortable, sad, anxious, stressed, and/or hurt. You may also come across some actions/behaviours where you may feel that boundaries were crossed for some and not all individuals. For example, you might feel comfortable with your mom calling you 'cute', but not your boss. This is where the hard work comes in. You will have to determine why something in that particular instance was a violation of your boundaries, and what exactly crossed that line and made you feel a particular way. Some questions may include:

  • How did I feel when ___happened?
  • Why may I be feeling like this?
  • Why does this in particular make me feel ___?
  • What part of that situation exactly upset me?
  • What can I do to stop feeling this way as a result of ___ happening?

Another thing you may experience is push back after you have set your boundary, this for me is the hardest part. For example: You have asked your friend to sleep elsewhere when visiting the city, and they reply with: "why can't I stay with you? I'm totally fine to sleep on the floor like last time.” Whilst the person may not have fully crossed the boundary by showing up at your house with a sleeping bag, they are still tip toeing across that line, and you are still likely to feel as if they have crossed your line in the sand by not complying with your original ask. You may find those who benefit from you not establishing boundaries are those most likely to try push them. Staying firm on your stance, being assertive on your needs and empathizing with the needs of others can usually help get everyone to a comfortable middle ground.

How might you feel when those boundaries are respected?

I briefly mentioned above how beneficial boundaries can be. In more detail, once you are able to draw and comply with those boundaries, individuals have shown to have improved autonomy by making decisions that are better for themselves and others [1]. People with boundaries are also shown to be healthier by giving themselves time to exercise, rest and focus on their wellbeing [1]. Individuals who have established strong boundaries have also shown to have higher levels of self-esteem and self-respect compared to those who haven't established clear boundaries [2].  

To end this post, I have one question for you:

Where are you in your journey to creating your boundaries?  



[1] How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets

[2] How to Create Healthy Boundaries

[3] Self-Care Tips

[4] Want To Be Happy At Work? Learn How To Set Boundaries

[5] Setting Boundaries

[6] What are Personal Boundaries?

[7] 10 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries At Work


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