Boundaries and Values

There are many types of relationships that can exist in college. As a student, you may develop peer-to-peer relationships with roommates, classmates, project members, teammates, or co-workers. Your relationships may be platonic or romantic or sexual. In a learning environment, students also develop formal relationships with faculty members and teachers, advisors, coaches, supervisors, medical and mental health care providers, and other supportive staff members. You also have many existing relationships with family members, caregivers, and friends. While you are adjusting to your new role as a college student, the dynamics of these existing relationships are adjusting too.

Navigating the development of new relationships and the changing dynamics of existing relationships requires introspection. As an individual, identifying your values, clearly defining your boundaries, and effectively communicating these elements with others is critical for developing healthy and sustainable relationships.

Learn more about Sexual Health: Knowing Your Values and Why That Matters.

What do we mean by values and boundaries?

Values give purpose and help you identify what you regard as important in your life and what’s important to you in your relationships. Values play a role in your formation of behavioral expectations. Expectations are more easily met when values are similar. If you think back to a time when your feelings were hurt by another person, at the root may be a difference in values.

If you have never thought about your values before, try this activity to help you identify your core values.

Boundaries include the physical, emotional, social, and material lines we establish for ourselves with others. These lines help us identify what we see as acceptable or unacceptable behaviors towards us.

Physical boundaries have to do with personal space. Do you have a distance from which you like to speak to another person? Do your roommates’ belongings feel like they are encroaching on your side of the room? Do you like to receive hugs? These are all examples of physical boundaries.

Your feelings shouldn’t be determined by another person. Emotional boundaries are about distinguishing your thoughts and feelings from others’ thoughts and feelings. Have you ever been told by someone “don’t be upset” or “get over it” or found that another person’s bad mood has affected your mood? Those are some examples of crossing emotional boundaries. When your thoughts are valued and your feelings are considered, your emotional boundaries are being respected.

Different cultures value different social boundaries. These are behaviors that are deemed acceptable or unacceptable to cross. Environments can also guide social boundaries. For example, when studying in the library, it is unacceptable to speak loudly. Doing so crosses a social boundary.

Individuals can also have social boundaries. Just as emotional boundaries focus on autonomy of feelings, personal social boundaries are about autonomy and a right to your own friends, interests, and privacy. If you have ever had a conversation with a friend or a relative that felt like they were prying, they were most likely crossing one of your social boundaries.

Finally, material boundaries are about the physical things you choose to share with others or items you choose to part with. Material boundaries are central to sharing a room or living space with others, which is very common in college. Sharing clothes with a friend, sharing notes or outlines with a classmate, and allowing your roommate to eat your food are all examples of material sharing that require you to define your boundaries.

It can take time to identify boundaries, and boundaries may change as relationships change. This article [link to boundaries article???]] may help you in identifying some of your boundaries. Being clear and communicating your boundaries [link to content on communication and consent] is an important aspect of managing relationships.