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  • Writer's pictureSarah Santiago

Tips to Become a Boundary Queen

Enforcing boundaries is a topic that comes up a lot in my work with college students. Some of us were raised in families without many boundaries so when we want to enforce healthy boundaries we may feel extremely uncomfortable and unsure of where to begin. Some of us were raised in families where our role was the mediator or caregiver and we often had to put our own needs aside to prioritize the needs of others, this experience can also leave us feeling uncomfortable with the idea of beginning to enforce boundaries. There are many reasons that we may struggle with boundaries; if that's what brought you here, this post is meant for you.

Boundaries can feel hard, especially if your communication style is naturally more passive. For people who are used to passive communication, boundaries can feel extremely aggressive. They can often worry that enforcing boundaries will push others away, or create conflict.

As college students, it's crucial to recognize the importance of setting healthy boundaries in our lives. Boundaries are personal limits that define what is acceptable and respectful in our interactions and relationships. Establishing and maintaining boundaries is an essential aspect of self-care and contributes to our overall mental well-being.

Something that I see many people get wrong about boundaries is using them to control other people. Boundaries are not about controlling others (spoiler: we have zero control over other people). Boundaries are about what we are going to do for ourselves to ensure that our own needs are being met.

For example:

Telling someone "you're not allowed to smoke anymore because it's bad for you" is not a boundary, but "I don't feel comfortable being around you when you are smoking and if you choose to smoke when we're together I'm going to leave and go somewhere else". The second example communicates what you're not comfortable with (your personal need to avoid smoking), and also communicates how you are going to take care of yourself if someone chooses a behavior you're not comfortable with.

Boundaries certainly don't have to be lengthy explanations though, they just need to be about you. "No", "I will not be attending", and "I am not doing that" are all clear boundaries.

Let's explore a step-by-step guide to help you set healthy boundaries and prioritize your mental health.

Step 1: Reflect on Your Needs and Values:

Take time to reflect on your needs, values, and personal limits. Understand what makes you feel comfortable, safe, and respected in different situations. Reflecting on your values will help you identify the boundaries that are essential to maintain your well-being.

Step 2: Identify Boundaries:

Identify areas in your life where you need to set boundaries. This could include your personal space, time commitments, emotional availability, or even the way others treat you. Be specific and clear about what behaviors or actions are acceptable and what crosses the line for you and decide what actions you will take to take care of yourself if that line is crossed.

Step 3: Communicate Clearly:

Once you have identified your boundaries, practice clear and assertive communication. Express your boundaries respectfully and directly to others involved. Use "I" statements to communicate your needs, such as "I need some alone time on weekends to recharge," or "I would appreciate it if you could avoid making negative comments about my appearance, the next time you do it I will be discontinuing our conversation." Clear communication helps others understand your limits and sets the stage for healthy interactions.

Step 4: Practice Self-Awareness:

Develop self-awareness to recognize when your boundaries are being crossed. Pay attention to your emotions and physical sensations. If you feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or resentful, it may be an indicator that your boundaries are being violated. Trust your instincts and take action to address the situation.

Step 5: Give Yourself Permission to Say "No":

Learn the power of saying "no" without guilt or explanation. It's essential to prioritize your needs and commitments. If something doesn't align with your values or adds excessive stress, it's okay to decline politely. Remember, saying no allows you to preserve your time and energy for activities and people that truly matter to you.

Step 6: Set Consequences:

Establish consequences for when your boundaries are repeatedly violated. Boundaries without consequences may not be respected. Consider the actions you will take if someone continues to disregard your boundaries. Consequences can range from limiting contact with certain individuals to seeking support from a trusted advisor or counselor. Consequences are not about "punishing" or attempting to control others, but are intended to give you space within a relationship or situation where your needs are not being met.

Step 7: Practice Self-Care:

Nurture yourself through self-care practices that honor your boundaries. Engage in activities that recharge and rejuvenate you. Prioritize self-care to maintain a healthy balance in your life and prevent burnout.

Step 8: Seek Support:

Don't hesitate to seek support from trusted friends, family, or professionals when setting boundaries feels challenging. Engaging with a counselor or therapist can provide you with guidance, validation, and practical tools to navigate boundary-setting effectively.

Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial component of self-care and plays a vital role in maintaining our mental health and well-being. By reflecting on our needs, communicating assertively, and practicing self-awareness, we can establish and maintain boundaries that protect our emotional and physical space. Remember, setting boundaries is not selfish but rather an act of self-respect and self-preservation. Embrace the process, be patient with yourself, and celebrate the positive impact that healthy boundaries will have on your overall well-being.

*Please know that I am not talking about unhealthy, toxic, or abusive relationships here. It's important to keep yourself safe and seek help and support if you believe you may be in an unhealthy relationship.

Note: This blog post is not intended to replace professional advice. If you are experiencing severe anxiety or mental health issues, it is recommended to consult with a licensed mental health professional. If you are in a crisis, please seek help immediately.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call: 800-799-7233 Text*: START to 88788 TTY: 800-787-3224 Chat:

About the author: Sarah Santiago is a licensed professional counselor in Michigan. She provides therapy to Michigan college students and emerging adults (ages 18-29) virtually. Her specialties include helping clients work through anxiety, eating disorders, and improving self-confidence.

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