Have you ever found yourself wondering how to find the balance between taking care of yourself and helping others? Or trying to make sure you are offering the best support while not crossing the line?
You’re not alone.
In fact, setting healthy and effective boundaries in peer support can be as confusing as it is challenging. The truth is, setting boundaries is the key to creating a supporting and empowering environment for everyone involved.
In this article, we will guide you step by step through practical techniques that you can use right away. From mastering clear communication to assertiveness, you will gain the tools to find the perfect balance between helping others and taking care of yourself.
Understanding Boundaries in Peer Support
In simple terms, boundaries are the guidelines we set for ourselves and communicate to others about what is acceptable and what isn’t within our relationships.
When it comes to peer support, boundaries serve as the framework that defines the dynamics and interactions between individuals.
In other words, they are an essential component of the peer support repertoire.
Moreover, the provide clarity, safety, and respect within these relationships, allowing for a healthier and more balanced form of support.
Boundaries are just as important for the individuals we work with as they are for us. By setting clear limits, we can let individuals know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Without them, supportive relationships can become complicated, leading to unwanted consequences.
What Do boundaries look like?
When we talk about boundaries in peer support, we are referring to the limits we set on our time, energy, emotions, and personal space. These boundaries help us maintain a sense of autonomy and protect our wellbeing.
More importantly, they establish a healthy space for support to take place.
These limits take various forms, ranging from physical boundaries (such as personal space) to emotional boundaries (sharing or receiving sensitive information) and even time boundaries (setting limits on availability).
Understanding the different aspects of these limits will help you navigate your role in peer support and ultimately make the support you provide more effective in the long run.
Establishing Boundaries in Peer Support
Now that we have a solid understanding of what boundaries entail, let’s get into the practical strategies for establishing them effectively. Setting boundaries is all about clear communication, self awareness, and assertiveness.
By applying these strategies, you can create a supportive and balanced relationship with the individuals you work with.
Clear Communication Techniques
Setting effective limits begins with open and honest communication. As peer support specialists, it is up to us to set the tone with communication. We can do this by clearly stating limitations and expectations with those around us.
This includes the individuals we are supporting, as well as colleagues and supervisors.
Sometimes setting boundaries with others can be intimidating. Using “I” statements to convey your thoughts and feelings can make the process a little easier. This is because this technique communicates our message without placing blame.
For example, imagine you discover someone has been breaking confidentiality outside of the peer support group you facilitate.
Instead of saying, “I know you are talking outside of the group, and you are breaking confidentiality,” try saying, “I feel uncomfortable when you speak about group matters with other people. Confidentiality is important to me as well as the other members and I need you to respect their privacy.”
Framing it like this keeps the focus on the speaker, while still acknowledging the situation. More importantly, it avoids placing blame and pointing the finger. “I” statements are an effective way to communicate boundaries. Plus, they can be used in all kinds of different situations.
Building assertiveness is fundamental for setting and maintaining boundaries. Doing so allows you to express your limits without aggression or passivity. Also, don’t be afraid to say “no” when necessary.
It only takes 20 seconds of bravery to set clear boundaries and establish your limits.
The benefit to setting boundaries early, is that it gives us permission mentally, to reinforce those boundaries if necessary. Once we have set a limit, if someone crosses that limit, it becomes easier to address the situation without feeling like the bad guy.
When we wait until someone crosses our boundaries to say something, it can feel uncomfortable and intimidating.
Not only that, but the other person may get defensive and wonder why we didn’t say something earlier. Remember, asserting your boundaries is an act of self-care and self- respect.
Define Specific Boundaries
Working in peer support, it is important to identify and express specific boundaries based on your own comfort level and personal preferences. These might include limits with time, emotions, personal space, what you are willing to share, or even language.
Keep in mind, your limits are your own. Just because someone else doesn’t mind having clients in and out of their office during lunch, doesn’t mean that you have to allow the same thing.
In other words, set your boundaries based on what you feel comfortable with, not on what you feel is expected of you.
Revisit and Adjust Established Boundaries
The limits you set with others may need to be reassessed and adjusted and the relationship evolves. It is good to check in regularly with yourself and reflect on whether your boundaries are still serving the best interests of the relationship.
Again, open communication with those around you will ensure mutual understanding and respect.
An example of needing to revisit boundaries might be when an individual you were supporting exits the program or moves to another location.
Letting that person know that you will not be able to continue providing support may be necessary.
Depending on your role and the policies of the organization you work for, continued contact with a client after the completion of services may be considered unethical.
Unfortunately, this situation can be difficult, especially if you have formed a connection with the individual you are supporting.
It’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of what kind of communication you are allowed to have with the individuals you serve. In some cases, any kind of outside communication may be against your code of ethics.
This is a prime example of why clear boundaries need to be set, not only to protect your client, but for your own wellbeing as well.
Practice Self Care
Setting boundaries also involves prioritizing your own wellbeing. To be efficient in your peer support role, it is important to recognize your limits and make self-care a priority. Otherwise, the stress of your role can become overwhelming.
Do not underestimate the impact that the traumatic stories of others can have on your life.
Set aside time for things that will recharge your mind and body. More importantly, establish boundaries around your personal time and space.
This way, you have the energy and resources to be effective in your role.
Maintaining Boundaries in Peer Support
Setting boundaries is really just the first step, and admittedly, this is usually the hard part. That being said, maintaining those boundaries is equally important and comes with its own challenges.
Confronting someone, especially someone you are trying to help, can be a delicate situation.
On the one hand, you don’t want to be a pushover and let people take advantage. On the other, you don’t want to push someone way and make them feel like they reach out for help. If this is you, don’t worry, it’s actually a pretty common situation.
Let’s look at some techniques that can help you maintain healthy boundaries in peer support.
It all starts with self-awareness. Regularly checking in with yourself will help you assess how well your boundaries are being respected.
Sometimes there are situations where you may not realize a boundary has been crossed until its too late.
Consistent check in’s with yourself can help you avoid these problems.
Reaffirm your boundaries
If you are feeling uneasy about confronting someone or wondering if you are overreacting, remind yourself of your boundaries and their importance. While helping others is the end goal, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your own wellbeing.
Clear and direct communication is often the best way to approach boundary violations. Try to speak to the individual in private and address any concerns you may have. Although, depending on where you work, there may be policies on how to handle these situations.
Be Firm and Assertive
During the conversation, express your concerns in a firm and assertive manner. It is important to address the specific boundary that was crossed. Confronting someone won’t be very effective if they walk away confused about what they did.
Being open to discussion about the issue can sometimes ease the tension. Plus, it lets the other person to better understand where you are coming from.
Most of the time, a respectful conversation is really all that is needed.
Seek Mediation or support
If the issue continues or starts to become more complicated, consider involving a supervisor or another peer.
When a situation has the potential to become violent or you are unsure of how to handle the conversation, you should always seek out support.
Putting it all together
So there you have it! Boundaries in peer support are the key to providing effective support, while still maintaining our sanity. They’re not about building walls, so much as establishing a mutual respect.
More importantly, they keep us in a healthy space to continue our work helping others.
By being aware of our own needs, and communicating them clearly, we can make peer support a space for growth and understanding. Remember to listen actively, use clear communication, and address issues early.
These little things go a long way in fostering trust and respect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Setting Boundaries Important in Peer Support?
Setting boundaries is the key to maintaining a professional and effective peer support relationship. Clear boundaries make sure that both parties understand their roles and limitations. Moreover, they are a safeguard against burnout and ethical dilemmas.
What Are Some Examples of Healthy Boundaries in Peer Support?
Healthy boundaries include keeping the focus on the individual’s needs rather than personal experiences, setting specific times for sessions, avoiding personal relationships with the individual being supported, and clearly defining what is and isn’t within the scope of the peer support role.
How Can Peer Support Workers Communicate Boundaries Effectively?
Effective communication of boundaries involves being clear, transparent, and consistent. This should be done both verbally and in writing at the beginning of the peer support relationship, and reinforced as needed.
What Should Peer Support Workers Do if Boundaries Are Crossed?
If boundaries are crossed, address the issue directly and promptly with the individual, and seek guidance from a supervisor or ethical guidelines. It may be necessary to reassess and redefine the boundaries to prevent future incidents.
Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.