Understanding Boundaries Part III: How to Effectively Communicate What You Need

Boundaries Part III

Understanding Boundaries Part III: How to Effectively Communicate What You Need

For our third blog post in this series on boundaries, we will explore ways of communicating our needs and limits effectively with others and ourselves.  Much of the information represented in this blog post stems from organized material written within the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy manual as well as from Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.  Each of these sources reference important information to help us effectively communicate with others as well as effectively listen so that not only can we get what we want, we can also maintain healthy relationships with others and maintain our own self-respect.


So, let’s explore the components of effective communication:


  1. Decide at any moment if you will be expressing your own needs or empathically receiving information from others.
  2. Pay attention to either what you are observing, feeling about what you observe, and needing in relation to your feelings or what the other person is observing, feeling, or needing in relation to what is affecting their well-being.
  3. Organize your observations- begin to describe the facts of the situation- who, what, where, when, how?  (ex: who was involved, what was in the room and what actions took place that you can provide evidence for, where did this situation occur, what time did this happen, how did events unfold)
  4. Organize your emotional responses to what you have observed- how did the who, what, where, when or how impact how you felt about the situation?  (Remember that you are taking ownership of your own emotions- you decide how you felt, and it is not how others made you feel)

(Examples of feeling words: sad, angry, hurt, betrayed, disappointed, frustrated, inpatient adventurous, hopeful, embarrassed, furious, indifferent, numb, reluctant, restless, scared, discouraged, confused, anxious, jealous, lonely, overwhelmed, puzzled, shocked, uncomfortable, surprised, weary, tired, suspicious, etc)

  1. Develop statements that express your feelings and NOT your opinions.  Often when we express our feelings, we are more apt to receive empathy from others, as it allows others to hear us taking ownership of what belongs to us, our feelings, rather than building up defenses in others when consciously or unconsciously push blame on others for how we are feeling.

Example of an effective expression of feelings:

I feel scared when you say that.

Example of an expression of an opinion:

I feel you don’t love me.

  1. Clearly express and assert what you need.  You may need space, understanding, support, but make sure to describe what that looks like, as if giving another person a manual to learn how to do something they have never done before.

Example: I want you to tell me what needs of yours are met by staying out late and for us to discuss other ways of meeting those needs.

  1. Consider the other person’s perspective and consider how they will benefit from following through with your request.
  2. Be aware of the dialogue, the other person’s body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal cues.  If you feel that the other person is not able to communicate effectively or you notice your own tensions rising, it is ok to ask to pause the conversation and suggest it be continued when both parties have regulated their emotions.
  3. Consider whether your requests are negotiable and if so, how might you engage the other person in coming up with alternative solutions to the problem that you have presented.  Consider your negotiables prior to entering into the conversation so that you are aware of what you are and are not willing to accept.

Different Boundaries for Different Relationships

Remember that boundaries exist in different relationships and at different levels.  For some individuals you may enforce stricter boundaries than with others.  Consider what needs are most important for you and how they impact the intensity or frequency of boundary setting.  Consider your need for trust, consistency, reliability, support, care, fairness and mutuality and how they might impact your need for a boundary in a relationship.  

Therapy can Help

Utilizing a therapy session to discuss boundaries and ways of effectively setting them can be an important healing process.  If you are interested in exploring this topic further, please reach out to the Holistic Health Counseling Center to learn more about your options.

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