Boundaries Can Be Tricky

It is important to recognize that boundary setting. If done in the spirit of Gentle Teaching, it is about teaching others how to love and treat themselves and others. Both the support person and the individual supported have their own personal boundaries they bring to a relationship. As supports and leaders we need to ensure that the individual’s boundaries are understood. There are times where we seek to decrease the boundaries of the people we support. If their boundaries are due to fear, current or previous trauma, or negative emotions, we need to ensure they feel safe and loved by us until the time is right to stretch. There are other times where we need to teach the other person how to set their own healthy boundaries.

We need to explore our own and other team member’s motivation for establishing boundaries with the person we support. Questions that should be asked include:

  • Is it to keep the individual/others safe?
  • Is it to increase the chances that their day is more successful?
  • Is it going to increase their quality of life?
  • Will the individual derive a sense of consistency/reliability from this?

If we are setting a boundary out of our own fear or discomfort this is not a boundary established for the others benefit or safety needs, but to decrease our own anxiety. This boundary will never be able to contain the spirit of Gentle Teaching. It is crucial to be able to identify and acknowledge our fear, and then question ourselves as to how we can change our approach instead of placing a demand on the other person. Because boundary setting can be tricky, we need to fully understand the person with whom you are setting the boundary. It is important to know whether you need to establish a positive relationship first and then establish boundaries – or is it important to have the boundary established at the start of the relationship? Know the individual’s history, in particular their trauma history. There may have been boundaries established in the past that have sent this person into crisis or remind them of past suffering.

There are instances where not having defined boundaries can lead to:

  • Individuals not being given appropriate or helpful support. This could effect their relationships with support people.
  • Individual may feel betrayed, abandoned, and not supported.
  • Support person and individual may be emotionally/physically traumatized or put in danger.
  • Community members may be at risk.

What potential effects could there be if a boundary that has been established, which has had a positive impact on the individuals well being and the relationship with their support person, is not being held to by one or more support person?

  • This can cause havoc with the individual’s sense of safety.
  • The individual can experience a sense of uncertainty with the support person, which can be detrimental to other relationships between the individual and others.
  • It may increase frustration and pit support people against each other.

It is very important to note that Gentle Teaching does not dictate what the boundary is, but rather how we use our tools (words, presence, eyes and touch) when communicating with the individual. Gentle Teaching requires us to have a non judgmental attitude while standing firm on boundaries. There will be instances of testing even in positive, loving relationships with well established, healthy boundaries. Please bear in mind that this is human nature and it is our task as Gentle Teachers to support others through outcomes with dignity and respect.

– Heather Foster, Home Supports Coordinator


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