Personal Boundaries

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” ~Henry Cloud

This small section is about how boundaries affect us in our personal life. Your personal boundaries affect your well-being and your work.

*Remember that an important part of boundary work is honouring other people’s boundaries. We must recognize that other people have as much right to their boundaries as we have to ours., Even though it might be hard when someone shares a boundary with us, we must honour and respect them by accepting their boundary.

An example of this would be asking if a friend has time to help us with something, and if they don’t, we honour that without trying to push them into doing it anyway. We can then look for someone else to help us.

 For Reflection

Consider these questions when establishing your boundaries:

  • What do you value in life? What is non-negotiable? (Ex: Good health. Having downtime, away from school and work. Time to be creative. Time to be with my friends and family.)
  • What activities give me a sense of purpose?

Healthy Boundaries and Well-Being

When we keep healthy boundaries and nourish our own well being we often experience the following benefits:

  • We preserve and protect our energy and capacity for connection
  • We support our mental health
  • We can be compassionate, and we can be a better support to others.
  • We feel equipped to say no when something doesn’t work for us, and yes when it does, which keeps us aligned with our values
  • We don’t take on more than we can, and we give ourselves permission to say no, or to ask for support
  • We feel more secure in ourselves, and have a greater sense of well-being
  • When we have good boundaries, we look less to others for approval
  • We know that our worth is not conditional on our behaviors
  • When we have boundaries and we practice self-compassion we know that we still have value even when we aren’t perfect, and we mess up
  • Healthy boundaries combined with compassion for oneself allows us to be humble and admit when we mess up, because we know our value isn’t conditionally based on an unattainable perfection
  • We are not ruled by shame.

A shame response is when we beat ourselves up for messing up and we feel unable to let it go. It’s when we do something wrong and then we constantly berate ourselves saying things like, “I’m such an idiot,” “I always do this. I will never learn.” This can perpetuate getting stuck in a shame cycle. Shame is destructive to our sense of well-being.

A healthy self-compassionate response to making a mistake is to sit with the pain and discomfort for a bit without ruminating or shaming ourselves. We can ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this?” We profoundly understand that mistakes are a part of life for everyone. We decide to do our best to do better next time.

When we have healthy boundaries and a sense of wholeness, we are also able to offer that same kindness, compassion, and understanding to others. We are careful never to shame anyone, and we are mindful of our words. We understand the power of our words and we intentionally choose to speak with compassion. However, when our wellness is suffering because of someone else’s treatment of us, we might need to take a break from the relationship either temporarily – or perhaps more permanently.

Kindness with Boundaries

“Your boundary need not be an angry electric fence that shocks those who touch it.. It can be a consistent light around you that announces: “I will be treated sacredly.”
~Jaiya John (Freedom: Medicine Words For Your Brave Revolution 2020)

When setting boundaries is a newer practice for us, we can sometimes struggle with enforcing them. We can either be too passive, or too aggressive. We can find ourselves reacting in anger, rather than responding thoughtfully. When we react strongly (like an electric fence) to someone who has crossed a boundary, it can really sting the other person and potentially create a fracture in the relationship. We can be in danger of crossing someone else’s boundary if we react in anger. This can be especially troublesome if we haven’t clearly expressed our boundary with them yet, and they crossed it unintentionally. A kind, respectful, and firm approach will likely be received better, while preserving the relationship.

In both friendship and peer support work, it’s important that both people get to weigh in on what works and what doesn’t within the relationship. As we have discussed, boundaries need to be clear, and they must be respected by both people in order to preserve the sanctity of the individuals and the relationship as a whole.

Both people in the relationship need to be treated sacredly by the other.

For Reflection

Consider how you would respond to the following situations that are crossing one of your boundaries. Write down how you can respond to them in a kind, respectful, and firm way.

  • Another peer support worker is desperate to get a day off. They ask you to take an extra shift for them. You don’t have plans, but you are very tired, and have homework. How do you respond to them?
  • You have told your peer that you will only respond to text messages about scheduling, but they keep texting you long messages about things happening in their life – how do you respond?
  • You have told your peer that you do not want to talk about mental health outside of your appointment times, but the peer keeps bringing it up during a class that you have together – what do you do?
  • You work in a drop-in peer support role and the program does not want peer workers to give out any personal contact information to students seeking support. But one student keeps returning when you are on shift and shares how much they like talking to you, and keeps asking if they can have your phone number to contact you at other times. You’ve told them the program won’t allow this, but they keep asking – what should you do?
  • You have a lot in common with a peer that you are working with, and you get along very well. You know that your support relationship will come to an end with this person soon, and you wonder if the two of you could stay friends – what should you do?
  • You are studying and another peer support worker from your team wants to vent to you about something. You only have a few hours before your exam, and you don’t feel ready yet. How would you respond?


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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