#friendship boundaries communication mental health relationships Apr 30, 2021

Whether it’s with friends, significant others, or even your kids, I constantly hear the phrase, “create boundaries.” It was only recently that I discovered the full importance of creating this space of understanding with the people around you in order to protect and maintain your energy. I feel as women especially, it’s difficult to create boundaries with certain people because of the stereotype and generational idea that women are here to serve. I know that for me, I have struggled for years to create healthy boundaries for myself, mainly because I didn’t want to be a “bitch,” or come off as “rude,” or “insensitive.” I’ve allowed my insecurity of being accepted to cloud my judgement of what is more important. So I want to talk about and walk through what boundaries are, and how to peacefully communicate with those you are creating boundaries with so that there is a mutual understanding. 

What are boundaries and how do we create them?

Well to start, boundaries are a verbal communication with another person with the intent to create guidelines, rules or limits to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards you and how you will respond when someone passes those limits.

Discipline is a prime example of setting boundaries. I think often, when rearing children, we mistake the two, but really they are the same thing; communicating what is right and wrong, and further communicating what the outcome will be if the line you drew is crossed. Example: when my son is doing something he shouldn’t, let’s say hitting or biting, I try to communicate calmly that this is not the behavior that I want to see.

“When you hit and bite it hurts, and mommy doesn’t like it, we need to use our words instead of our actions.”

There is the boundary; when you hit and bite, it hurts, and I don’t like it. You are using their behavior as an example of what is not okay, and giving them the opportunity to correct it. Then I would create the response or the consequence of what will happen if the defined bad behavior continues;

“If you continue to hit or bite, you will have to go to time-out.”

Now with a two year old, this gets repetitive because you are teaching them the difference between right and wrong, so you will more than likely be going back and forth to time-out more than you would with an adult right? But the concept is still clear - create the boundary, express the response or consequence of continued behavior, and act upon that consequence. So what would the conversation look like with an adult, potentially a close friend or family member, and not a two year old? Let’s use the example of a boss or manager with an employee. Back in the day, I worked for the Safeway deli and had a lot of trouble with the managers at the time. My deli manager portrayed herself as a safe person to come to, and when I was struggling with my mental health, I confided in her. It was visibly affecting my work, and I was led to believe that she had knowledge of these struggles herself, and found a kinship with her, and felt comfortable enough to express this outside of work. Unfortunately, I found out later from another friend at work that she had been telling all of my co-workers about my struggles in a way that was derogatory. She was basically making fun of me to my co-workers, and making me seem more unstable than I was, even though she herself claimed to have some of the same struggles. When I found this out, I went to the store manager and expressed my concerns. This was probably one of the first boundaries I made, unbeknownst to me. I told him that because of this incident, I felt like it was an unsafe and toxic environment. I asked to be transferred to another department - there is the boundary. Requesting removal from an environment where I felt uncomfortable. I further expressed that this issue needed to be discussed with her directly so she understood how fracturing this was to her team and department. Should I have aired all my dirty laundry out to my Safeway deli manager? No, I should have definitely reached out to a professional and obviously I can see that now. But at the time, as a lost teenager, with the belief that therapists and mental health professionals were taboo, I reached out to someone that I thought I could trust, with more wisdom than myself. This was the point where I also experienced gaslighting in a professional environment. The store manager basically told me that I was overreacting, that it wasn’t a serious issue, and it wasn’t enough to go through the “work” of transferring me to another department. That’s when I verbally stated the “consequence.” I told him that my mental health and overall emotional safety was important to me, and that if he couldn’t go through the work of transferring me to another department where I would feel more comfortable, than I was going to find somewhere else to work, and put in my two weeks. He then proceeded to shame, guilt, and provide empty affirmations -

“You’re such a hard worker, we can’t afford to lose you,”

“If you leave it will affect your team and they will have to put in more work,”

and so on. He wasn’t taking my concerns, my feelings or the situation seriously, and it became very obvious that I wasn’t more than a number or body to fill a position. So I acted upon the “consequence.” I put in my two weeks, thanked him for his time, finished my shift and went home. Now you may be thinking that that is kind of a silly example, work is work and that I was overreacting or throwing away an opportunity based on drama. Well you would be correct. Like I said, I was a kid with a lot of issues, a lot of insecurities, and a huge people pleaser. But I will always pride myself on creating that boundary because leaving that job was one of the best things I ever did. That was always, and always will be one of my firmest boundaries: working for people not for companies. 

Setting boundaries with family members and friends can definitely be more complicated and difficult. These are usually the people that love you the most, and having to create hard lines with those people can seem impossible especially when looking back at all of the things they may have done for you. I still struggle with this. It wasn’t until about a year ago when I had a four hour talk with my dad that really changed my perspective on the positives of creating boundaries and expressing deep set emotions with family members. I got engaged and knew that I wanted the daddy daughter portion of my wedding to be genuine and not forced. But there were a lot of things that I was holding against my dad that were separating me from having a relationship with him. So I wrote a letter. It was eight pages, it was emotional, and it included all of the things I wanted to say and communicate to him since I was a kid. I needed him to understand that some of the ways in which he spoke to me or some of the ways he handled things were detrimental to my mental health and my self image. At first I wrote the letter in anger; using a voice that was intended to punish, hurt, and accuse him of all of the wrong doings that I experienced. But as I’ve become a mother, I imagined what it would feel like to hear those words from my son.

With anger comes anger, defensiveness, and hostility. But with love comes love.

I re-wrote the letter with the intention to educate, uplift, and accept the things that I did, instead of making him the villain. I also read the letter aloud to him with the tone intended, so that nothing was misconstrued. Little did I know that in doing this I was not only opening the line of communication with my dad, but I was also setting boundaries for myself in our father daughter relationship so that we both could thrive and learn and grow together. It was one of the best talks my dad and I have ever had. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears, but a lot of healing and relief. Since then, knowing the outcome of this conversation, and knowing that communicating with peaceful, non-violent intention results in acceptance and healing, I’ve allowed myself to be more outspoken about my feelings and my truths. Letting the people in your life know what triggers you, what hurts your feelings, what affects your self image isn’t putting them down, it’s lifting you both up to a higher, more powerful self. It’s allowing you to practice self love and create openness with the people you care about. 

Another example would be separating yourself from your loved ones that you recognize need professional help. I know how crazy that sounds, but hear me out. There is only so much we can give to those who struggle with mental illness. I understand how important it is to have a support system, and have people who are genuinely there for you and understand your ups and downs. But it is not your job to fix their mental illness, or stretch yourself thin when you don’t have the tools or the background to do so. I think in a lot of ways, we could all be therapists, right? But even therapists have therapists. Imagine talking about heavy shit all day and having to cope with dozens of clients emotions and struggles alone. This is why creating boundaries with your loved ones that do struggle with mental illness is important for not only yourself, but also the longevity of your relationship. Example: I struggle with anxiety and depression, and over the years, my fiancé has learned some of my triggers, but he doesn’t know all of them. And on days when he is having a rough day, and I’m having a rough day, it’s not always the most nurturing environment for discussing deep rooted feelings. Of course he loves me and supports me and wants me to be in a space mentally where I feel good and happy, but we are human, and he can’t be happy and have good days one hundred percent of the time. Thats too much to ask of a person. Thats why at the end of the day, I found a therapist so that I could be the best possible version of myself for my partner and my son. I’m not perfect, I don’t try to be, and I know I will have frustrating days and angry outbursts and feel anxious, but so will my fiancé, and depending on him to be my sounding board all the time isn’t fair to him. It’s a partnership, and I want to be there for him just as much as he is there for me, and that means taking responsibility for my mental health, and getting the tools I need to be able to do that. So this stands true for your loved ones as well. It isn’t our job to be therapist, friend, loved one, and so on. Recognizing your role in your friend and family’s lives is important for creating those boundaries that will benefit both of you as a unit, instead of just one person.

So what are some key elements to remember when setting boundaries?


  1. Your emotional well being is valid. I feel like this gets covered a lot, mostly because as women, being emotional is cause for the proverbial eye roll. Too often we back down from expressing our emotions and communicating them with the people around us because of generational and societal dictation that we shouldn’t. While I understand time and place, it doesn’t matter who the recipient is, setting boundaries for your emotional well being should be a top priority, and if the people you are communicating with care for you, they should take it seriously. The work place is always a hard place to maintain emotional boundaries. It’s easy to get caught up with the stress, the anxiety of your working community, and complain outwardly when things get hard. I know that’s a big one for me. This is why centering and grounding yourself and creating emotional boundaries in the work place is so important. It can be like I described above, putting yourself first and not allowing people in a higher position to take advantage of you. But it can also be separating yourself from the emotions of the work place by taking the time in the morning before work to recognize where you are at emotionally, and not allowing yourself to feed off of emotions of other people. This can look like verbally communicating with your coworkers that you have a lot to do and just want to focus on your own tasks today as to not give into workplace drama. Or meditating first thing in the morning to ground and center yourself to maintain a higher vibration. As my therapist calls is, cloaking yourself in a veil of protection. Preparing yourself in this way allows you to not only have confidence going into work or social situations, but also allows you to regain that positive attitude that will (hopefully) radiate to others as well. Negativity breeds negativity, love and positivity breeds love and positivity. 
  2. Taking time for yourself or stepping back from things is not a weakness or selfish. We are in the throws of the “self care” movement, and this alone is a boundary that is essential to our mental and physical well being. I know that stopping for a moment seems difficult, and sometimes it’s hard to not feel guilty for doing so. Hi, stay at home mom here! But just like I was explaining above with creating boundaries for your kids, you have to create boundaries for yourself too, because if mama aint happy, aint nobody happy and that’s a fact. Even if you’re not a mother, this could be taking your sick days or vacation days to have a breather from work, or taking a day away from school to regroup and regain focus. I know *gasp* taking a day off from school for no reason? Treason! But really though. I had several friends in High School whose parent’s allowed their kids 2-3 mental health days per year. We forget, as adults, how challenging school can be, not just intellectually, but socially as well. Giving your kid the opportunity to make their mental health a priority is huge. Doing the same for yourself is essential. We all know the plethora of symptoms stress can do to our bodies; breakouts, headaches, anxiety/panic attacks, stomach aches or ulcers, the list goes on. It is not a bad thing to take time for yourself and regroup. Like right now, I’m trying to phase out napping for my son. But he has been extra fiendish today and mama needs a break so I’m letting him sleep for a few so that I can get some writing done and catch up on emails and take a breather in the quiet, scream free house. Don’t short-change yourself. Make yourself a priority. 
  3. Be firm and assertive, but intentional. I think that anytime you have to have a difficult conversation with anyone, it is nerve wracking. But like everyone always says, communication is key. Standing up for yourself, creating firm boundaries, and communicating with the people in your surroundings, though maybe anxiety inducing at first, allows for a more free feeling atmosphere. I think in general the hardest part for me is either getting words out in the moment where I need to communicate, or verbally expressing frustration in a way that is constructive. This is where it’s good to stop, breathe, and respond in a way that is not only going to benefit you, but also the person needing clarification. This can also mean saying, “Hey, I’m pretty frustrated right now, and for me to respond with intention I need a moment to process. Let me get back to you.” Addressing their questions with questions, for example, also gives you the time to formulate answers that will be more calm and collected. This is assuming there is tension in the confrontation. I am a fixer, and someone who has a hard time separating my emotions from other peoples emotions. So when someone else is upset, I will find myself emulating their emotions without even realizing it. It’s important in these moments, like I said, to step back, and rationalize where you are at mentally and emotionally, and move forward in a way that isn’t going to create more tension. Make them feel safe and loved, while also creating hard lines that will benefit both of you. 


I know that these are only a few examples and ideas of how to create boundaries, but the entirety of the idea is basically that it’s okay to create your safe fortress around yourself. Building “walls” around yourself isn’t exiling you from the world, it’s protecting you and the people you care about from unnecessary stress, strain, and unrest. Recognizing your worth, and creating an atmosphere that is conducive for all parties to feel safe and validated is essential for growth and continued happiness. And that doesn’t mean you can’t let people into your fortress, it just means that when people come in their needs to be a policy of openness and understanding. A shoes off rule if you will. That isn’t too much to ask for. Your worth, your emotions and your self preservation are essential for your mental and even physical health, and creating boundaries that help you grow and feel comfortable in the present and future relationships you entertain. Don't short change yourself, respect yourself enough to make you a priority. 

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