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College life offers such a variety of opportunities, freedom, and vibrant social scenes that it can be easy to kick the “responsibilities” part to the back seat. The problem with all the things that we want to do and all the things that we have to do is that we are but one person. We can’t be all, and we can’t do all. Setting boundaries never sounds like fun, but it is necessary in order to keep us sane.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are limits or barriers that you set with yourself and other people. These limits can fall under several categories and determine what sort of behavior or access you allow from others and from yourself. These can be things like who you allow to hug you, who you allow to speak into your life, or even who you allow to borrow your clothes.
Types of Boundaries
There are a couple of different areas that we can separate boundaries into.
Emotional boundaries are the limits that we place on our emotions and others’. These boundaries help us decide who we open up to, who we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with, who we go to for comfort, and how much of that we receive from others.
Physical boundaries are the limits that we put on our bodies, and other’s access to it. This is who we allow to touch us, in what capacity, and in what setting. This can also apply to what sort of comfort level we have with our bodies being viewed or discussed, and how we acknowledge and take care of our body’s physical limits (need for rest, not overdoing exercise, staying healthy, etc.).
Material boundaries are the limits that we place on material things, either belonging to us or others. Most commonly this is referring to money or things we own, such as clothing, food, electronics, and (in this day and age) Netflix subscriptions.
Time boundaries are the limits we place on how our time is used, who it is used on, and what it is used for. This can be who we spend quality time with, how much of our day we determine is for work, family, and friends, and what sort of time must be spent on ourselves.
These are the more common types of boundaries. When it comes to boundaries for college students, these are areas that absolutely can’t be ignored. If we have no boundaries and leave ourselves to “figure it out” when areas of concern or discomfort come up, often we end up with confusion, poor decisions, and lessons we would rather not have learned.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Setting boundaries is more than just building walls between people and it’s about more than people earning your trust or time. When we have no boundaries and just go wherever the wind takes us, we end up burning out quickly. Especially with college life, there are often multiple things that need to get done, jobs that we may work on the side, and the need to balance work/school with a social life.
It is not unhealthy to go out with friends. It’s not unhealthy to be dedicated to school, or to work. It is not unhealthy to spend time with yourself. All these things by themselves are perfectly healthy. The problem, as it is with food, is in excess or too little.
When we have a million assignments to do, but our friend calls us up and asks if we want to go get fast food and stay up all night watching movies, we have a choice. When we have no boundaries in place for our time, we might go hang out with our friend, wake up the next day, and be faced with every assignment we didn’t get done, including the ones that we saved for the last minute and no longer have time to do.
When we have no boundaries, we burn out. When we can’t say no to hanging out with friends even though we have school or work, we pay for it later with a bigger workload and closer deadline. When we have no boundaries for emotional vulnerability, we can confide in people we don’t really know, or take on the emotions of others that we are not prepared to deal with.
It isn’t a bad thing to “be there” for someone. But it’s important to know yourself and how likely you are to become emotionally invested or drained. When we are constantly acting as a sounding board for someone we care about, their emotional baggage can seem a lot heavier on top of our own. Setting boundaries for how much and how often we can carry other’s emotions, and when we need to step back for our own sake is essential.
Boundaries and The Bible
Setting Boundaries in the Christian community can be difficult. We can end up feeling selfish for not being totally self-less with our time and energy. However, let’s make sure we understand one thing: Boundaries are biblical.
Even Jesus had boundaries. How many times in the gospels did he go off by himself to a quiet place to pray? Even when the crowds were looking for him, even when people wanted healing, he prioritized time with his Father, and put distance between himself and others.
The Bible is full of boundaries that God has given us (The ten commandments, Jesus’ teachings) that define what is okay and not okay. These boundaries show us how to have a healthy relationship with our Father, not keep us from him. Boundaries are meant to protect relationships, protect those in the relationship, and respect both parties.
If setting boundaries is modeled by our Heavenly Father to maintain a healthy relationship with Him, then setting boundaries in other areas of our life should be seen as healthy. Yes, we are called to love each other (John 15:12), and yes, we are called to serve each other (1 Peter 4:10). Yes, we are called to do the best that we can for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); but we are not called to self-destruct in the process.
Setting healthy boundaries, especially boundaries for college students, means understanding your own limits and being able to determine when you are being selfish (choosing not to do homework, choosing not to be there for people, choosing not to try/serve) and when you are being healthy (knowing that you need a mental break, feeling emotionally exhausted/preserving emotional stability).
Learning to Say No
Setting boundaries can be especially difficult for those of us who have a really hard time disappointing people. It can feel like we are being inconsiderate or selfish by saying no to people or denying certain access. It can also be perceived as aggressive to be insistent on our boundaries being respected. But, learning to say no and be stern about our boundaries is important.
Remember that the boundaries that you set are determined by you, for you, and you matter. How you feel matters, your comfort and security matters. Your health matters. Learn how to say no when people ask for things you aren’t comfortable giving, or when friends want to hang out but you have responsibilities.
Others may not always receive it well when we say no or are firm with our boundaries. But, remember that you deserve to feel respected and comfortable. You are responsible for setting your limits, not for other people’s reactions to your limits. If someone has a problem respecting your boundaries, it should be a sign that their friendship/relationship may need some evaluation.
Learning to say no can be difficult and uncomfortable, especially with those we care about, but it is necessary. And when our boundaries are violated, it’s okay to let people know. It doesn’t have to be a scene, but just a calm reminder. A simple, “hey, I’m not sure comfortable with…” or “I know it would be super fun to hang out, but I really need to finish…”
How others respond is up to them, we are not responsible for it. We are responsible for being firm on our boundaries and learning how to say no.
Boundaries for college students are essential. There are a lot of opportunities and responsibilities, and it can feel like we are being pulled in every direction. Boundaries are not meant to keep us from having fun or having meaningful relationships. Setting boundaries allows us to protect ourselves from burnout, define the limits to keep relationships healthy, and keep us on track with everything that we need to do. Boundaries are a key part of a successful college life.
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