Erin, a college-age client, thought everything was going well with her dorm mate Bella. But a month into the school year, Erin started noticing some of her makeup was missing, her favorite snacks were gone, and her closet, which she kept ultra organized, was often found in disarray, and some clothes, ‘nowhere to be found. Erin would come to her coaching sessions frustrated but insisting she was a non-confrontational person and tried to convince herself that Bella’s use of her personal items wasn’t “a big deal.”
It was clear to me that Erin, like many teen and college-age girls I coach, needed support in understanding and expressing her boundaries. Clearly, she was not OK with her roommate going through her things and taking items without asking. After a couple of coaching sessions, Erin learned the importance of boundaries and how to directly express her boundaries without being confrontational. She realized that stating a boundary could actually help strengthen her friendship with Bella and improve her living situation.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are an important part of healthy relationships, well-being, and self-respect. They define what is and is not OK in our interactions with others. Boundaries reflect our needs, values, and emotions, while also respecting the needs and boundaries of others. When expressed clearly, they prevent being taken advantage of (like Erin) and promote healthy communication and trust. Boundaries also protect our mental and emotional health and help us to live in alignment with our needs and values.
How to determine your boundaries
Determine your boundaries by reflecting on your values, needs, and priorities. Ask yourself, what is and is not acceptable in different areas of your life, such as relationships, work, school, and personal space, and identify your values, needs, and priorities in each area.
How to express your boundaries
Consistency helps others understand and respect your boundaries and using an “I statement” avoids blame and promotes receptivity of others. There are several examples of I statements below
One of the most effective boundaries comes when we say “no.” If requests or invitations don’t align with your boundaries or priorities, say “no” respectfully but firmly, without feeling guilty or obligated to explain extensively.
A few ways to start your boundary statements:
I don’t like what is happening right now/how I am being spoken to.
No, I’m sorry, I am not able to do that.
I am not sure. I need more time to think about that. I will get back to you.
It is not OK with me when you…… When it happens again, I am going to……
I notice when you…., I feel/I would prefer……
As Erin learned about her boundaries, she developed more confidence in expressing them. She used a version of the last statement to express her boundary to Bella and told me it was so much easier than she thought. When she said to Bella, I notice you’ve been using my makeup and stuff. I would prefer it if you asked me first. Bella shrugged and said, OK, no problem. And from then on, she started asking Erin when she wanted to borrow something.
Remember, setting and expressing personal boundaries is a continuous process of self-awareness. By honoring them, you empower yourself to create healthier and more fulfilling relationships and experiences.