Do you sometimes have trouble saying “no”, or expressing what you really want? Don’t worry—you’re definitely not alone.
Many people struggle to communicate their needs and express personal limits with others. Setting boundaries sounds so simple yet it can be quite challenging to execute if you’re not accustomed to doing so.
If you do have difficulty setting boundaries, you might find yourself either drained from not being able to say no or feeling isolated because you haven’t shared what you need from others. Also, if you tend to be inconsistent with your boundaries (sometimes it’s “yes,” sometimes it’s “no”), then you’re likely sending mixed messages and leaving those around you confused about how to treat you.
Boundaries teach others how to treat us and communicate what we find to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. In some ways, setting boundaries is also about honouring the relationships around you, whether it is with family members, friends, partners or coworkers. Rather than expecting the people in your life to read your mind (and then feeling resentful because you’ve pushed your needs aside), tell the person how you feel.
How to set boundaries
First, identify the behaviour or action that has affected you, and briefly describe how you feel about it; then outline what boundary you want to put in place.
1. Share how you feel with “I” Statements:
“When you _______ (identify the behaviour), I feel _______ (name the emotion)”
“When you speak negatively about me in public, I feel disrespected.”
“When you look through my phone without my consent, I feel violated.”
“When you start working on your laptop during the kids bedtime routine, I feel alone and more stressed.”
“When you talk to the client before telling me, I feel caught off guard.”
2. Outline the boundary or make a request:
“I need you to…“
Example: “I need you to stop making comments about my weight”, “I need you to respect my privacy”
or “Could you please_________”
Example: “Could you please keep negative comments to yourself?”, “Could you please help me with the kids every night before you start working on your laptop?”)
or “I would appreciate it if _____________”
Example: “I would appreciate if you could ask me how long it would take before setting the deadline with the client.”
3. In some situations, you may need to state a consequence:
“If you continue to ______ (the behaviour), I will ______________ (your plan to protect the boundary)”
Example: “If you continue to speak negatively about me in public, I will remove myself and leave the room.”
Things to keep in mind when setting boundaries
- Be short but specific when describing the behaviour, leaving little room for interpretation. Use simple language and don’t over-explain yourself.
- Use a neutral, respectful, and firm tone
- Avoid blaming or criticizing statements (“You” statements)
- You are not responsible for how others react towards your boundaries
- If there is an unpleasant reaction, remind yourself the other person is entitled to how they feel and try not to take it personally
- Follow through with your boundaries and back up your words with action; if you are not feeling ready to act on a consequence, don’t put it out there until you are
- Expect that you will have to reinforce your boundaries and be prepared for pushback
- If you’re not sure about what your boundaries are in the first place, you may need to work on building self-awareness and understanding your priorities. Connecting with a therapist can help. They will help you gain clarity on what your limits are and why and get support in strengthening your boundary criteria for different areas of your life.
How to say no
Sometimes we just need to say no in simple terms, without identifying the emotion. Here are 6 ways to do it.
1. Polite refusal: Be gracious yet firm
Example: “No thank you. I prefer not to.”
2. Insistence: Emphasize your position with strength
Example: “No, I feel really strongly about changing the direction of this project.”
3. Be a Broken Record: Repeat the same sentence over and over.
Example: “No, thank you, I won’t be joining you all tonight”; “No, thanks, I won’t be joining you tonight”; “No thanks, have fun, I won’t be joining you all tonight…”
4. Partial honesty. If you don’t feel safe enough to be fully assertive, provide a version of the truth
Example: “I’m not able to come out tonight because I made other plans.”
5. Full honesty: Be 100% direct
Example: “No, I’m not interested.”
6. Buy yourself time: If you’re unsure of your position and don’t want to answer yet, ask for time.
Example: “I’ll have to think about that one and get back to you tomorrow.”
At the end of the day, setting boundaries is really about taking care of yourself and honouring your self-worth. You deserve to be heard!
It seems like it’s become harder and harder to date. Dating articles range from “why did they ghost me?” to “why are they all hot and cold?” These behaviours are all marvels that are becoming more common as a result of the online dating and app world.
In this day and age, not only do we have multiple options, we also have to search through those multiple profiles, go on multiple dates, have multiple chats and potential connections, and possibly go through multiple break-ups in order to get to be with someone (that is, if monogamy and serious relationships are your thing). Just thinking about all of this and typing it makes me exhausted!
So, how on earth can we make sense of this messy online dating and app scene?
Think about the following, always with your own needs as your true compass:
- What do I want when it comes to dating? Do you want something casual, to see how things develop, a serious relationship, marriage?
- What do I want in a relationship? Would you be okay with long distance, for example?
- What do I need from a partner? For example: kind, thoughtful, considerate, attentive, etc.
- What are my boundaries? What behaviours am I not okay with?
- What is my gut saying about what’s going on? If it doesn’t feel right, check it out. If it still doesn’t feel right, consider saying no to this relationship.
At the end of the day, only you will know what works for you. By being your authentic self, others who appreciate who you really are will take notice. It’s more than enough to give.
If you have questions on how to further explore and understand your relationships, it can also be helpful to explore this with a therapist.
In the spirit of #BellLetsTalk last week, which focuses on talking about mental health, let’s turn a page to talk about how to support others.
When it comes to talking to a loved one about mental health, it can be very uncomfortable because as a society we are still living with a lot of stigma and there isn’t enough information out there to help us know how to start such a conversation. Try these R-E-S-P-E-C-T tips to start the conversation:
(R) Realize it’ll take time to understand where you’re coming from.
For those experiencing a mental health condition, they might be having a hard time coming to terms with their mental health condition. Some might be experiencing “anosognosia” which is a symptoms where someone does not have self-awareness of the condition they’re in, meaning someone actually doesn’t know or think they’re ill. This TED Talk by Dr. Xavier Amador gives a good description of what this might look like.
(E) Educate yourself and others.
It can be really helpful to speak to a professional about your concerns and what you’re observing as the first step to getting support, and to continue these conversations.
(S) Say to yourself “it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling”.
It can be really challenging for family members to support a loved one with mental health concerns. Caregiver burnout is a feeling of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion due to the demands of providing care. It’s important to have support when this happens, because your loved one needs you to be healthy in order for them to be supported by you.
While it’s easy to say, patience is a virtue and definitely hard to practice, so start practicing now. Not only will you need to be patient with your loved one, it’s also important to be patient with yourself and the difficult feelings that might come up for you.
(E) Expect that there will be good days and bad days.
Plus there are lots of days that are both good and bad. other days in between. Progress isn’t linear. It can feel frustrating after several good days to have a bad day. It would be important to notice what happened on that bad day so you can strategize on minimizing future bad days.
(C) Crisis plans are important.
A crisis plan is a plan that is discussed in calm moments to decide which supports (personal and professional) to access during a crisis. Here is a great template to use.
(T) Teamwork makes the dream work.
Think about who to involve in your “team” to support your loved one and you as well. List out people like mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, family doctors, therapists), peer support (e.g. groups, crisis helplines), and family and/or friends.
Breakups can be awful. Whether you’ve been with someone for a few weeks, years, or decades, going through a separation can make us feel a range of emotions, including:
- insecurity and
If you’re currently going through a breakup, this list is for you. Follow these six steps to keep it C.L.A.S.S.Y.
You can do this. Remember, you deserve better.
C – Consider your words
As tempting as it may be in the moment to spill your ex’s awful secrets to his or her closest friends, you’ll feel better in the long run if you take the high road.
Also, if there is even the slightest chance you might get back together, be careful when telling your friends and family your ex’s biggest mistakes or failings as a partner. You may be able to forgive and forget, but those closest to you might not.
L – Look Ahead
Find new things to enjoy as a single person. Everyone needs to make compromises in relationships. Now is your time to rediscover those things you love that your ex didn’t.
- Explore that hobby your ex never wanted to try
- Spend time with old friends now that you have more free time
- Stretch out in the middle of your bed and hog all the covers!
Being newly single can be an exciting time to rediscover who you are and what you love to do.
A – Alternate Your Supports
Even your best friend will need a break sometimes from hearing about your ups and downs. If you’re concerned about overwhelming one person, alternate between close friends and family members. Sometimes having someone impartial to talk to, like a therapist, counsellor, or life coach, can also be helpful.
S – Select the Right Friend for the Job
Think about what kind of support each of your friends can offer. Are they the friend that has always given you tough love? A shoulder to cry on? A fun distraction? Most likely you’ll need all of these types of supports at different times, but it’s important you match what you need with the person who’s able to give that type of support. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends what type of support you need right now.
S – Stay off Social Media
Especially early after a break-up, social media can be not only one of the most tempting but also disastrous ways for you to spend your time. Stay away from your ex’s social media. It is now a plague that you must avoid at all costs. This can extend to his or her close friends and family too. Remember that postings are more about what we want to show the world than how we’re actually feeling.
If you aren’t ready to block or limit your contact with your ex and the people closest to him or her, consider limiting your time on social media altogether.
Y – You – Take Care of Yourself
Now is the time to take care of the most important relationship you’ll ever be in – the one you have with yourself. Remind yourself that “you alone are good enough” and embrace this time to truly take care of yourself on a spiritual, emotional, physical, social and mental level.
The end of a relationship can be extremely painful, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. Sometimes there are people in our lives that we can no longer be around because it’s not healthy for us and it’s no longer working. Yet, regardless of how necessary it might be to end a relationship, it will still take time to get over that loss.
There are a few ways to understand relationships and the feelings you get when you lose them. To help you navigate this topic, this blog is divided into three parts:
- “What happens inside your mind and body” talks about the biological and chemical
changes that happen
- “What attachment theory can teach you” discusses the relationship itself (by taking a look at early childhood relationship patterns known as “attachment patterns”) to understand why the relationship is – or was – so important to you
- “How do I get over this pain?” The pain that you might feel physically and emotionally from this loss, and how to get over it.
What happens inside your body
Our bodies respond to relationships in unique ways. In our body, we create chemicals (like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin) that give us those “feel good” moments when we’re in a relationship, help us build a bond with others, and create patterns that we use as templates to understand relationships in our lives.
So, what happens with these bodily chemicals when a relationship ends? First off, chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin decrease; so this means your probably won’t have those “feel good” moments as you did when you were part of that relationship. Then, the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, increases as a response to what it thinks is a “stressful event”. What this means is, you probably already don’t feel as great anymore and your body is also responding to say “hey, I’m super stressed about this!” and this results in the confusing feelings you might be feeling at the end of a relationship.
The good news is, we have enough research to tell us how to help our body limit production of cortisol and boost up those chemicals that help us have “feel good” moments.
What attachment theory can teach you
Attachment. You’ve probably heard this word before, maybe even used negatively “you’re being way too attached”. What does it actually mean to be “attached”?
Attachment theory is a psychological model used to help us understand how we respond in relationships; especially when we’re hurt, separated from loved ones, or think something dangerous is about to happen. This response is a process that starts in childhood through one of our strongest bonds, a mother-child bond (but don’t be mistaken, this bond can also be formed with others too. The most important role model or attachment figure in your life is your template for a strong bond). These bonds we build are what make us feel connected and safe. In adulthood, we try to re-create relationships where we hope to feel those same safe and connected bonds.
Usually, when a relationship ends, that bond is threatened. This means you lose that sense of safety and connectedness, which can make you feel scared, alone, sad, or even betrayed and angry. It’s hard to tell what emotions will come out because of this loss. Especially in the storm of these emotions, we may feel a need to go back to that relationship in order to feel safe and be comforted. That feeling of safety may be temporary. It’s important to remember why you ended that relationship and take time to go back to actual relationships that are safe, as well as learn about how you might be able to let go of this relationship (keep reading!).
How do I get over this pain?
Losing a relationship is painful on so many levels. Our body responds with chemical changes to this loss and the loss in sense of safety and connection.
The good news is, there is something we can do about all this. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:
One, trick our body into thinking the positive chemicals are still around by:
- Participating in exercise and new activities so that we can create adrenaline
- Doing activities that help us relax such as going for a walk or meditation, and making sure we stay hydrated to regulate vasopressin
- Get some rest. Sleep the recommended 7 to 8 hours, because this will help with minimizing cortisol (the stress hormone) and also balance our dopamine levels
- Cook a nutritious meal (for example, you can try these recipes) maybe even share that meal with family or friends
Two, be kind to yourself. Sometimes we will doubt if we did the right thing to end a relationship, that’s totally normal. It’s all part of what we call the grieving process, where we physically, emotionally, and mentally have to get over a painful loss but it’s not forever.
Three, ask for support from those around you. This can include seeing a therapist. They might be able to help you understand more about your attachment patterns and work with you to form new patterns that are healthier for you. They can also help you get through this experience of loss.
Ask anyone who’s ever dated, and they’ll tell you about their unsuccessful relationships.
“My past relationships were unsuccessful.”
“I always seem to fail in love.”
“I’d like to be in a successful relationship that actually lasts.”
What does it mean to be in a successful relationship? And how do we define it?
For some, the term “successful” is saved only for those partnerships that end in life-long marriage—’til death do they part. But who is to say that marriage (or a long-lasting marriage) is the only qualifier for success?
What happens if we change the way we define a successful relationship to mean any relationship that resulted in a better, stronger, smarter you?
A 3-month relationship, where partners learn about their sexual desires and preferences is a success.
A 5-year relationship, where you now more clearly understand of the qualities you need in a long-term partner is a success.
A 20-year marriage that has ended, where you’ve learned to love and let go, leading to more self-discovery and resilience is a success.
I have clients who tell me they’ve had “no successful relationships,” and after a little more conversation, I can see that they’ve had many successful relationships. While those relationships have now ended, the amount of information they’ve learned about them is amazing.
The ability for my clients to reframe their relationships experiences is empowering.
Let’s take back this phrase “unsuccessful,” and redefine what success looks like in relationships of all kinds. Every relationship—no matter how short or long—teaches us something about ourselves and desires. They help us prepare for future relationships, and that’s what success looks like!