Practicing Healthy Emotional Boundaries as a College Student

Woman returning to college

Contributor: Courtney Howard, B.A., Executive Assistant at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope

College is a time to grow and learn about yourself as an independent person. This often means finding your own community, developing relationships, and, in doing so, exploring your emotional and physical boundaries. Every mistake you make can be a lesson learned, but you can go into this experience with knowledge on how to establish these emotional boundaries as they become clear to you.

Establishing Boundaries with Friends

Licensed therapist Terri Cole compares having no emotional boundaries to leaving the door to your house unlocked. Anyone can come just walk right in. Establishing these boundaries can protect you from toxic people or from being taken advantage of by friends.

We often do not learn what our boundaries are until they have been crossed. When this happens, feel your feelings and express them to your friend. Do not apologize for having these feelings, as everyone is entitled to his or her own personal boundaries.

For example, you might have a friend who stops by your apartment unannounced on a regular basis. It is okay to tell your friend that you appreciate the visits but need to know before he or she comes over. If you do not establish this boundary early on, it will lead to emotional distress and unnecessary conflict in the future. On the flip side, it is also okay if your friend does not understand. You can both respect each other’s emotional boundaries without fully understanding why the other person feels this way.

These rules also apply to classmates who might try to copy your homework or abuse your willingness to tutor them on the weekends. If you feel disrespected or violated because of someone else’s actions, speak up with “I feel…” statements to address the situation and express your feelings in a productive manner.

What About Romantic Relationships?

Happy couple in collegeWhether you are casually dating in college or are in a long-term relationship, it is essential to establish healthy emotional boundaries early in romantic relationships. This is a form of self-care, as you are protecting your emotional wellbeing and practicing self-respect. As with platonic relationships, it is important to not apologize for this, even if it feels awkward to you.

Many young people fail to establish emotional boundaries with intimate partners out of fear of rejection, or because they do not have experience with dating or relationships. However, if someone is not able to respect your boundaries and treat you the way you want and deserve to be treated, they do not deserve to take up room in your heart.

Establishing boundaries and what you are comfortable with early can set the tone of mutual respect. When your feelings and boundaries are not respected, this can result in codependency or even abuse.

It is important to let your partner know if he or she does something that hurts you or otherwise violates your boundaries. If you do not, then he or she will not know that this is something that bothers you and the behavior will likely not change. Feel empowered to speak your truth.

Fluid Boundaries and Comfort Zones

College irl sitting with head in her handsSome might argue that emotional boundaries are fluid, as certain things might affect us now that we can be conditioned to tolerate. In relation to the aforementioned example, the individual with the friend who drops by unannounced might in fact be able to adjust to this behavior and not be bothered by it. But at what length do we sacrifice our own boundaries to accommodate others?

College is also a time to leave your comfort zone and really find out about the world and people around you. While it is important to take risks and learn new things, there is nothing wrong with having emotional boundaries and taking them seriously. Again, this is practicing self-care and self-respect, which are both paramount to mental health.

What If It Is Too Late?

Even if you have been failing to acknowledge your own emotional boundaries out of fear of confrontation or rejection, it is never too late to begin to establish these boundaries with friends and loved ones. Those who care about you will be happy to see you standing up for yourself and speaking your truth.

That being said, it might take time for others to adjust to your boundaries, so be patient with loved ones. Changing relationship dynamics to meet your emotional needs is possible, but it does not happen overnight. A good first step is being honest with yourself and others about what healthy boundaries mean to you.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What experiences, both good and bad, did you have when first practicing healthy emotional boundaries?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Executive Assistant for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 20, 2016
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