Boundary setting has become somewhat of a taboo in today’s world that is so focused on being accepted, positive and inclusive. However, you can still have all these attributes and more when you consciously begin setting boundaries for yourself, especially against negative or toxic people.

Boundaries are the limits or physical/mental/emotional space you put between you and a situation, lifestyle, or another person. This space protects you and your mental and emotional health from negative things like harsh words, bad energy, constant disappointments, hurt and burnout to name a few. Contrary to a paranoid conscious, boundaries are not a way to close yourself off, but rather a way to open you up to peace of mind and full relaxation. Boundaries make you more available to a better life where you are in control of or in harmony with your surroundings.

A common example of boundary setting is one where someone sets a boundary with another person who is seemingly negative. If someone hurts you deeply by something they say or do, you may choose to forgive them and yet still set a boundary. Limiting that negative relationship does not mean you are holding a grudge; it simply means that you have the courage to step back, evaluate the situation, and choose not to put yourself in that space over and over again. You may be okay to talk to them once in a while, but the boundary may be to not seeing them as much anymore; or not discussing a certain topic with them anymore.

For some people, it is extremely hard to create clear boundaries within negative relationships (friendships, families, partners). The first step is identifying if the relationship requires more boundaries. Ask yourself:

  • Is this relationship fair?
  • Do we both give and take equally?
  • Do I enjoy being around this person/ in this situation?
  • Do I do it out of obligation?
  • Do I feel exhausted after engaging with person?
  • Does this person/ situation make my life better or worse?

After answering some of these questions, it may be clear that this relationship is not the best situation for you in your current moment and that it requires some boundaries if you are going to continue it. Note: If the relationship is strikingly negative or dangerous, then boundaries may not suffice. Sometimes, a complete removal of yourself from the situation is necessary for your well-being and safety — but that is for you to decide.

After you determine that a relationship requires more boundaries, you must decide how much space you need or where the boundaries should lie. If you truly want space between you and this relationship, you may start saying no when you genuinely want to say no. Shutting off your phone, staying in at home opposed to going out, and not always being available to this person will help curb interactions that perpetuate negative emotions. Sometimes, it is not about saying no to seeing them, and more helpful to say no to specific interactions or conversations. For example, if you love your best friend but disagree deeply on a subject matter – make that the boundary. This would be saying “We can talk, but not about that”, and ensuring your comfort comes before the need to argue.

Then, once some physical space is created, it is time for managing your own feelings. When you do experience those taxing moments that leave you drained, unhappy, or emotional – embrace the act of self care. Self care can be so many different things; baths, naps, journaling, exercise, a healthy meal, stretching, breathing, or any of your favourite activities. When you find your self care, do it without guilt.

Lastly, make honouring yourself a priority while you set boundaries. Listen to your mind, body and spirit and truly ask yourself some tough questions: What do I want right now? What do I need right now? What needs to be done to achieve this? What is my body telling me? Once some of these questions are answered, respect your truth enough to make a boundary that works for you.

What boundaries are and are not

If you are still on the fence, just remember that boundaries are not:

  • Selfish
  • Rude
  • Limiting
  • Negative
  • Pretentious
  • Grudge-holding

Boundaries are:

  • Mature
  • Necessary
  • Healthy
  • Sustainable
  • Mindful
  • Respectful
  • Self care

Ichiro Kishimi, a Japanese writer, wrote an interesting book entitled The Courage to Be Disliked. In this book, he articulates a very compelling piece about the fears we have to set boundaries and rid ourselves of negative relationships, thoughts, responsibilities, and lifestyles. He writes,

The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness

By this, he does not mean when that when you become a positive spirit who celebrates self care and boundaries, that everyone will suddenly stop liking you. He means that making boundaries, knowing yourself, and caring for yourself, are all scary to do for the first time. These actions seriously counter some people’s core, human values – to give, give, give, and help, help, help. Even once you do set boundaries, some people do not respect them no matter how clear they are. However, that is not our responsibility to fix. That is a boundary in and of itself – the line between your actions and other people’s understandings of them.

Final thoughts

The courage to let go or limit that all-consuming job, that unhealthy friendship, a demanding familial relationship, or even just an image of ourselves that we simply cannot live up to anymore… is truly courageous. That is a boundary that we should be unapologetic to set. We get caught up in negative relationships and negative situations simply because we are afraid of the social implications of setting a solid boundary. Will it look rude? Will it look immature? Will they even understand what a boundary is? When we set a boundary in a negative relationship, we put our peace of mind before all of these worries and find a new type of confidence in ourselves. What boundaries do you need to set in your life today?