DESC Communication Tool
D – Describe the behavior
E – Explain the effect of the behavior
S – State the desired outcome
C – Consequence: say what will happen if the behavior continues

Some people prefer to memorize the key words that represent this model because it gives them a
consistent structure to follow:
When . . .
I feel . . . because . . .
Therefore, I want/need . . .
So that . .

“When you tell me I’m expected to be at the get-together without consulting me first [Describing the behaviour], I feel disrespected and unimportant [name the feeling] because I think that I am not getting to have a say in decisions that affect me. I need to be involved in these plans in future [state desired outcome] so that I can make sure that we both get what we want [consequence].

Using these kind of “I” statements gets one out of blaming, and taking positions. It opens the door to more genuine communication.

Healthy Boundaries

What are boundaries?

The word boundary in the American Heritage Dictionary is defined as “an indicated border or limit.” In relationships boundaries are often defined as the line that indicates where one person ends and the other begins. People with healthy boundaries have developed an identity separate and distinct from others and are not dependent upon others to nurture their personal and spiritual growth. Consider the following illustrations below:


Figure 1 illustrates healthy boundaries. In this relationship, the line between partners is easily identifiable. They are independent beings, yet they are close enough to be connected and to have an impact on each other’s life. In healthy relationships boundaries are flexible. They grow and change. Boundaries can be lowered to promote intimacy or extended to promote safety.

In Figure 2, it is difficult to distinguish one partner from the other. This is called enmeshment or collapsed boundaries. Partners in an enmeshed relationship generally try to merge with the other in order to avoid the emptiness they feel when alone. This is troublesome, because partners either seek to lose themselves in the other or expect their partner to become lost in them.

Figure 3 illustrates a relationship where each partner is completely self-contained, having very little impact on the other and very little emotional connection. This is called an emotionally detached relationship or rigid boundaries. The boundaries in this relationship tend to be more like walls and prevent intimacy.

What kind of boundaries do you have?

Look at the following characteristics to determine what kinds of boundaries you have:


  • You can say no or yes, and you are ok when others say no to you.
  • You have a strong sense of identity. You respect yourself.
  • You expect reciprocity in a relationship-you share responsibility and power.
  • You know when the problem is yours and when it belongs to someone else.
  • You share personal information gradually in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship.
  • You don’t tolerate abuse or disrespect.
  • You know your own wants, needs and feelings. You communicate them clearly in your relationships.
  • You are committed to and responsible for exploring and nurturing your full potential.
  • You are responsible for your own happiness and fulfillment. You allow others to be responsible for their own happiness and fulfillment.
  • You value your opinions and feelings as much as others.
  • You know your limits. You allow others to define their limits.
  • You are able to ask for help when you need it.
  • You don’t compromise your values or integrity to avoid rejection.


  • You can’t say no, because you are afraid of rejection or abandonment.
  • Your identity consists of what you think others want you to be. You are a chameleon.
  • You have no balance of power or responsibility in your relationships. You tend to be either overly responsible and controlling or passive and dependent.
  • You take on other’s problems as your own.
  • You share personal information too soon. . .before establishing mutual trust/sharing.
  • You have a high tolerance for abuse or being treated with disrespect.
  • Your wants needs and feelings are secondary to others’ and are sometimes determined by others.
  • You ignore your inner voice and allow others expectations to define your potential.
  • You feel responsible for other’s happiness and fulfillment and sometimes rely on your relationships to create that for you.
  • You tend to absorb the feelings of others.
  • You rely on others opinions, feelings and ideas more than you do your own.
  • You allow others to define your limits or try to define limits for others.
  • You compromise your values and beliefs in order to please others or to avoid conflict.


  • You are likely to say no if the request involves close interaction.
  • You avoid intimacy (pick fights, stay too busy, etc.)
  • You fear abandonment OR engulfment, so you avoid closeness.
  • You rarely share personal information.
  • You have difficulty identifying wants, needs, feelings.
  • You have few or no close relationships. If you have a partner, you have very separate lives and virtually no shared social life.
  • You rarely ask for help.
  • You do not allow yourself to connect with other people and their problems.

How do I change?

Understand that developing healthier boundaries (as with any life change) is a process, not an event. Thus, it will take time and practice. There are no quick fixes. However, healthy boundaries will lead to improved self-esteem and increased intimacy in your relationships. So the payoff is big, if you are persistent! Below are a few suggestions to help you stay on track in the process:

1. Identify the ways in which your boundaries are unhealthy. Make a list of how they express themselves in your life.

2. Write letters to yourself encouraging change and addressing the fears that work to prevent change. Nurture your right to have boundaries!

3. Make a list of personal rights (i. e. boundaries) in your relationships and paste it where you can read it often.

4. Keep a journal and record the pain associated with not maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships. (Sometimes pain is a great motivator.)

5. Write an entry in your journal answering the question “Who Am I?” Do this periodically.

6. Look for role models of healthy boundaries in your life or in the media. When confronting a boundary challenging situation ask yourself “What would my role model do?” Better yet, if your role model is a part of your life, ask them!

7. Build in time for yourself away from your relationship on a regular basis. This will include alone time, time with your close friends, time for spiritual growth, and time to attend to life’s little responsibilities.

8. If you have difficulty saying ‘No,” look for opportunities to practice. If you have difficulty saying “Yes” to any activity that involves interacting with others, look for opportunities to practice.

9. Seek counseling to examine the roots of your unhealthy boundaries.

– author unknown at this time –

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  • I have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • I have a right to have and express all my feelings.
  • I have a right to take care of myself first if I choose to.
  • I have a right to be listened to and taken seriously.
  • I have a right to make mistakes.
  • I have a right to say NO! I do not need to justify myself or give reasons.
  • I have a right to say NO without feeling guilty.
  • I have a right to say NO to anything I feel I am not ready for.
  • I have a right to say NO to anything that violates my values.
  • I have a right to say NO to anything that I feel is unsafe.
  • I have a right to terminate conversations – because I want to – when I feel humiliated or put down.
  • I have a right to choose who to spend my time with.
  • I have a right to play and have fun.
  • I have a right to set limits for myself
  • I have a right to make my own choices and decisions.
  • I have a right to choose my own spiritual beliefs.
  • I have a right to physical and emotional privacy.
  • I have a right to grieve.
  • I have a right to talk about things that are important to me.
  • I have a right to be angry.
  • I have a right to express my needs.
  • I have a right to make noise, to laugh, and to cry out loud


Some tips for strengthening boundary-setting skills are:

1. The things we say we can’t stand, don’t like or feel angry about may be areas screaming for boundaries.

2. When we know we need to set a limit with someone, do it clearly, preferably without anger, and in as few words as possible. Avoid justifying, rationalizing or apologizing.

3. We cannot set a boundary (limit) and at the same time take care of another person’s feelings.

4. We will be tested when we set boundaries. Plan on it. It doesn’t do any good to set a boundary until we’re ready to enforce if. Often, the key to boundaries isn’t convincing other people we have limits – it’s convincing ourselves.

6. Be prepared to follow through by ensuring that our behavior matches the boundaries we set.  What we do needs to match what we say. Consequences and ultimatums are one  way to enforce boundaries.  We will set boundaries when we’re ready, and not a minute sooner. We do it on our own time, not someone else’s.

7. Healthy limits benefit everyone. People may not know they/re overstepping our boundaries-unless we fell them. People will respect people that they can’t use.

8. A support system can be helpful as we strive to establish and enforce boundaries. It can be valuable to have feedback about what’s normal and what our rights are. A cheering squad is very helpful as we strive to assert our rights.

9. There’s a fun side to boundary setting too. We get to identify what we like, what feels good, what we want, and what brings us pleasure. That’s when we begin to enhance the quality of our lives.

Healthy living means you give to people from time to time. Strive for balance. Strive for flexibility. Strive for a healthy sense of self and how you deserve to be treated.

– author unknown at this time –

I don’t agree with every one of these items, but there are some good ideas here if kept in perspective. – BG



l. You act on feelings when you need to.

2. You can say no when you want to without experiencing tidal waves of guilt.

3. You generally do precisely what you want to do rather than depending on the suggestions of others.

4. You no longer blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in a relationship or friendship.

5. You no longer feel responsible for making a relationship work or making another person happy

6. You don’t take things personally. If a friend is inconsiderate or a partner has a wandering eye, you know the behaviour has to do with them and their history and has little or nothing to do with you.

7. You disagree with a friend and yet are able to maintain your friendship.

8. You realize you’re not responsible for the actions of another.

9. You become comfortable in receiving as well as giving.


l. STAY WITH YOUR FEELING – Allow yourself to feel it fully. Remind yourself that it’s none of your business what the other person is feeling.

2. EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS – You have a right to express all your emotions. Say how you feel out loud. Share your feelings with others at every opportunity.

3. STATE YOUR PREFERENCES – “I’d rather eat at a different restaurant.” “I would prefer to take my own car.” This helps you to maintain clarity about your own choices and priorities.

4. SET LIMITS – “I can drive you to your class this week, but I can’t drive you every week.” “I love you, but I can’t come over tonight; I have to study.”

  • These limits will help you give to others within healthy boundaries, so that you don’t overextend yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to disagree with someone. Acknowledge the other person’s opinion and restate your own. Don’t resort to pretending or accommodating in order to keep the peace.
  • Talk about your own experience, such as how you handled such an incident, rather than how the other person ought to do it.

5. HAND THE PROBLEM BACK TO ITS ORIGINATOR: That’s a tough decision, but I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out.

From the book: Don’t Fall Until You See The Whites of Their Lies by Cheryl Moore Barron

Definition of Co-dependence

“Co-dependence” describes a set of behaviors and the pattern of functioning which can develop in an individual after prolonged exposure to a person or system with addiction or another compulsive behaviour, mental health problems or any kind of violence or abuse.  These systems and relationships discourage open expression of feelings and direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.  These rules are internalized and result in the development of a codependent or inauthentic self, which is presented to the world while concealing feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness and shame.

Codependence is characterized by a preoccupation with, and dependence upon, people or things, and a disregard for aspects   of the self such as feelings, boundaries and needs – often to the point of having little self identity and self definition.  It is further characterized by enmeshment in relationships, and by enabling, caretaking, controlling and approval-seeking. All of these behaviours represent attempts to reduce anxiety and create a sense of safety, self-worth and identity

Five characteristics of codependence:

1. People pleasing and approval seeking. A need to please others and a pattern of changing or denying needs and feelings in order to be accepted or approved of.

2. A strong need to have others depend upon them and to find their validity and sense of self in this dependence.

3. Guilt and anxiety if one says “no” or sets a boundary. Conversely, resentment when one says “yes” or collapses a boundary in an effort to avoid reeling guilty or anxious. This emotional double-bind is indicative of powerful conditioning to take care of others at the expense of self

4. Obsession with other; functioning, mood and well-being of self is perceived as being contingent upon functioning, mood and well-being of other.

5. Compulsive controlling and/or caretaking and/or enabling behaviours – which reduce anxiety and distract from painful feelings.

People at high risk for codependence include:

  • Friends and relatives of chemically dependent people
  • People recovering from chemical dependency
  • Adults from dysfunctional families
  • Helping professionals
  • Families with secrets or unresolved traumas.


Completing this checklist can help you become aware of ways you may be “rescuing” people without realizing it.  Some people call this kind of problems with boundaries “co-dependency”.

1. Is it hard for you to take time for yourself and have fun?

2. Do you supply words for someone else when she/he hesitates?

3. Do you set limits for yourself that you exceed?

4. Do you believe you are responsible for making (keeping) someone else happy?

5. Do you like to lend a shoulder for someone else to “cry” on?

6. Do you believe that the other person is not sufficiently grateful for your help?

7. Do you take care of someone else more than you take care of yourself?

8. Do you find yourself interrupting when someone else is talking?

9. Do you watch for clues for ways to be helpful to someone else?

10. Do you make excuses, open or mentally, for another person?

11. Do you do more than your share, that is, work harder than someone else does?

12. When someone else is unsure or uncomfortable about doing something, do you do it for him or her?

13. Do you NOT do things you would like because someone else wouldn’t like your doing so?

14. Do you find yourself thinking that you really know what is best for someone else?

15. Do you think someone else would have grave difficulty getting along without you?

16. Do you use the word “we” and then find you don’t have the other person’s consent?

17. Do you stop yourself by thinking someone will feel badly if you say or do something?

18. Is it hard for you NOT to respond to anyone who seems to be hurting or needing help?

19. Do you find yourself being resented when you were only trying to be helpful?

20. Do you find yourself giving advice that is not welcome or accepted?

– author unknown at this time –


No Boundaries

Clear Boundaries

Rigid Boundaries

No differentiation between self and other Able to attain intimacy; interdependency Uses “walls” to protect self
Trouble recognizing own or other’s abuse Does not tolerate abuse of any kind Cannot attain intimacy
Difficulty saying “no” or protecting self Does not violate other’s rights and boundaries Cannot allow self to be vulnerable
Doesn’t acknowledge other’s boundaries Takes responsibility for own behaviour and feelings May use anger to distance people
Can be both victim and/or offender Entitled, assertive response to life Strong need to be right; argumentative
Blames others; trouble taking responsibility Maintains sense of self in relationship Aggressive response to life
Passive response to life. Feelings of shame and inadequacy Feeling of confidence and worthiness Feelings of shame and inadequacy
Lacking respect for self or other Respect for self and other Lacking respect for self or other

Damaged Boundary System

  • can at times or with some people say no and set limits; at other times or with some individuals is powerless to say no
  • can sometimes set boundaries except when sick or tired
  • may become offenders; may control and manipulate others
  • may take responsibility for other people’s behaviour, feelings and thinking
  • difficulty recognizing, respecting and modeling healthy boundaries with and for children
  • may vacillate between no boundaries and rigid boundaries
  • may have passive-aggressive response to life.
  • feeling of shame triggered in some situations or by certain people.

Courtesy of Arla Sinclair