All About Boundaries Part 3: Communicating Boundaries

Communicating Boundaries

Learning how to communicate with others about boundaries can help us cultivate more fulfilling relationships with ourselves and others. This is the third post in our All About Boundaries Series by Edmonton-based registered provisional psychologist, Selena Arcovio. To get caught up, check out the first post exploring what boundaries and the second post discussing boundary violations and what happens when our boundaries are crossed.

In this post, we will be changing gears and exploring how we can intentionally set boundaries with the people in our lives and respect the boundaries of others. Being able to communicate our boundaries and truly hear when others do the same is one of the keys to having healthy and lasting relationships with people throughout all areas of our life. If you want to book a session with Selena to explore your boundaries and communication in your relationships or if you're looking for someone to walk alongside you on your healing journey, you can book your counselling session online - HERE.

Communication Styles

Let’s start with exploring four different communication styles: 

  1. Aggressive Communication - This type of communication serves to enforce one’s own worldview. It can look like interrupting, yelling, talking down, etc. When someone is communicating aggressively, it shows the listener that only their needs, wants, and feelings matter. The listener may feel bullied, belittled, and less important than the speaker.
  2. Passive Communication - This communication style is on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is when the speaker prioritizes the needs, wants, and feelings of the listener. The speaker is either not expressing their own needs and/or is not standing up for themselves. This can lead to being taken advantage of, even by people who do not intend to cause harm but simply do not know they are crossing the speaker’s boundaries.
  3. Passive-Aggressive Communication - This is what happens when someone lets their emotions take over and influence their behaviour and communication, but they deny the reality of how they feel. This can be unconscious and the individual might be unaware of their true feelings. We often unconsciously use passive-aggressive communication because it has been helpful in the past and it can become a habit to respond this way when we are frustrated or distressed.
  4. Assertive Communication - This is the “sweet spot” in the middle of the communication spectrum. When you use assertive communication, you are firm in your convictions but also respect the needs of others. The speaker emphasizes the importance of everyone’s needs. Collaboration and compromise are found with assertive communication. 

Assertive communication may be the “sweet spot” that we want to aim for, but there is a role for aggressive and passive communication in our lives. For example, aggressive communication might be needed when we are in a situation where our physical or emotional safety is at risk. Sometimes passive communication might occasionally be needed when we are in a caregiving role. However, when we talk about navigating conversations about our boundaries, we want to aim for assertive communication as much as possible. 

When communicating assertively, it is important to be clear and direct when we are stating our limits, needs, or requests. I-statements provide us with a useful formula for being assertive. The format of an I-statement is: 

I feel… When… And what I want/need is… 

Being assertive and using I-statements are often awkward and uncomfortable. In our society, we aren’t often encouraged to reflect on how we feel, take responsibility for our own emotions, and directly state what we need. Our feelings are entirely our own and we can’t blame our emotions on others. However, we can identify what we need, communicate our boundaries, and ask others to respect our wishes.

Boundaries and Vulnerability

Taking a step back, in order to communicate assertively with others, we need to identify what our boundaries are. Part of this process involves intentionally reflecting on our authentic needs and desires. Being honest with ourselves and others is hard because it opens us up to being vulnerable. Fear of vulnerability can stem from a fear of rejection. Being vulnerable and stating your needs implies that you can’t be everything to everyone and that you have limits. However, when we reframe this, it highlights the fact you are simply human. 

Honoring the Boundaries of Others

Keeping in mind the vulnerability it takes to be assertive with your needs, it is important that we honor the boundaries of others when they share them with us. There are a few important things to keep in mind when other people communicate their boundaries to you. 

First of all, not everyone has taken the time to intentionally reflect on their boundaries (or read this blog series!). It is okay to check in with other people in your life about their boundaries. Let’s say your adult child comes to you with a concern they have about work. It’s normal to jump into “parenting mode” or “problem-solving mode” and formulate a 7-step process for fixing their problem. However, sometimes jumping into problem-solving mode can lead to frustration and resentment because that is not actually what your adult child needed from the conversation. Instead, it could be helpful to ask “What do you need from me right now? Advice or a supportive-ear?” or you can say “I want to jump into problem-solving mode, is that what you need from me or do you want me to simply listen and support you?” 

Another tip is to set your own boundaries first. The goal is to always respect other people’s boundaries, but sometimes this isn’t possible when the interaction encroaches on your own boundaries. It is okay to tell someone that you are not going to be able to respect their boundaries if they continue to interact with you in a specific way. Let’s say you are talking to a friend and they bring up a topic that you know you do not see eye-to-eye on. It is okay to tell them that you do not want to talk about this topic because you know it will lead to an argument or mutual frustration. It is helpful to set your own boundaries before you cross someone else's.

Handling Someone Else’s No

Saying no is an important way that people express their needs. Just as we want others to respect our no, it is important we accept no from others. Managing no with respect and care can help strengthen relationships and build mutual trust.

When we hear no, it can be helpful to reflect on any feelings or thoughts that arise from a place of self-compassion. It is okay to think “Wow, that sucks! I really wanted that thing to happen!” However, we must remember that a no is a rejection of your offer or ask; it is not a rejection of you as a person. Separate yourself from the boundary you hit, and learn from the experience. Respond with curiosity about the person and their needs, instead of frustration.

Communicating with others about our boundaries can seem like a daunting task. Being vulnerable, reflecting on your authentic needs, and opening yourself up to what might happen as a result of setting limits can be difficult. At Holistic Healing Counselling, our therapists can help you navigate the discomfort of vulnerability and help you uncover your authentic needs. They work with their clients to identify and shift patterns of communication so they can move closer to their relationship goals. Ready to go deeper into boundary work? Reach out to one of our Edmonton-based registered therapists today and start your healing journey.

In the next blog post of this series, we will be discussing boundaries in intimate relationships. Couples and Partners registered provisional psychologist, Selena Arcovio, will outline common issues partners run into when navigating boundaries in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships. 

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Welcome to Holistic Healing

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