By: Nicole Snell, CEO Girls Fight Back
"Raise your hand and show me with your fingers on a scale of 1-5— how comfortable you are setting boundaries in your life?”
This is one of my favorite activities to start out my Boundary Setting training sessions. It gives me the opportunity to gauge each audience and it helps the participants to start thinking about their own personal boundaries. As you’re reading this right now, I invite you to think about how you would rate your own ability to set boundaries.
Our boundaries are unique to us and can shift depending on who we’re with, where we are, and our mental state in that moment. Boundaries can apply to us on interpersonal levels (friends, family, partners) as well as a professional level (colleagues, employers/employees, customers, etc). As outdoor professionals, guides, employers and enthusiasts, our boundaries can also be determined by the ever-changing natural environment. In addition to helping us navigate our relationships, boundaries allow us to feel safe, comfortable and supported in a given environment. They are the framework for each interaction we have. Because of how fluid boundary setting can be, awareness and communication are key for clearly articulating our needs and respecting the boundaries of others.
I covered a wide of range of topics regarding boundary setting in my program at the America Outdoors Conference. For this article, I want to focus specifically on 5 questions that can help us gain clarity for setting our personal boundaries.
To begin, let’s recognize that your boundaries are valid and that you have full authority to express them. Sometimes we may feel pressure to obscure or minimize our boundaries out of concern for how someone else will respond. Your safety and comfort are important and should be prioritized! How someone responds to your boundary will give you information about them and offer clues for how to proceed. Fear of someone’s response shouldn’t keep us from advocating for ourselves in all aspects of our lives. If an encounter escalates after you establish a boundary, you still have options for maneuvering within the situation to work towards an agreeable outcome. It is empowering to feel confident using your voice to clearly communicate what behavior is violating your boundaries and identify what you need instead!
5 Questions to Ask when setting boundaries
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when it comes to setting boundaries that can help you clarify what you need:
Am I comfortable with this interaction?
How close is this person?
What outcome do I want to see?
What can I do?
1. What’s happening?
Take a moment to observe what is actually happening in the situation. What is the sequence of events and what are my senses picking up? There is no judgement or analysis in this stage, it’s meant to help you observe what is occurring in an objective manner. Once you establish the facts about what’s going on, you move to the next question.
2. Am I comfortable with this interaction?
This is where you determine your feelings about what’s happening. This may differ based on who you are and who you’re encountering. We often have different boundaries based on our familiarity and relationships with people. Perhaps you don’t mind if Person A calls you a nickname but you don’t like it when Person B does. That’s valid! Is your intuition sparked? You don’t have to stay in a conversation or interaction with anyone if you’re feeling uncomfortable. Determining your personal comfort level may give you the space to evaluate how to respond to the person or have a longer conversation with this person about it later.
3. How close is this person? (Distance and relationship)
Someone’s physical proximity to you is important to identify from a personal safety point of view. If the person is within enough distance to touch you (about 3ft) and you’re feeling uncomfortable, one of your boundaries (and safety measures) may be to create more space between you. Part of this questions also refers to your relationship with this person because, as I mentioned above, our response often varies based on who they are. Identifying the relationship can help you decide what the best course of action is for your situation.
4.What outcome do I want to see?
This is an honest check-in with yourself about your best-case scenario for the interaction. Once you can determine what outcome you want to see, you can start evaluating your options that can help you get there. Which brings us to the last question.
5. What can I do?
With all the information you gathered about your situation, you now get to determine how to respond. These can range from setting a boundary, to removing yourself from the situation entirely (if possible). Your choices will vary because our world and relationships are dynamic. You are the best person to decide what is right for you based on your assessment of the events, just like if you were assessing a trail or waterway for safety before continuing. Options allow us to interact with the world from a place of confidence instead of fear.
Boundary setting is a lifelong journey. Unlike outdoor adventures or trips which often have a clear beginning and ending, boundary setting is more like interacting with nature itself. Nature is in a constant state of change and we may be faced with circumstances we weren’t expecting, e.g., encountering wildlife, equipment failure or inclement weather. As such, some days you may have an easy time determining how to respond to a boundary violation and other days it may be difficult. No matter where you are on this confidence journey, you’re on the right path. Boundary setting takes practice, and it’s possible to reach a point where you can identify your boundaries and take action with greater ease. When those days come, I hope you’ll look in the mirror with confidence and say to yourself, “I’m worth speaking up for and my voice matters!”
About the Author:
Nicole Snell is an award-winning international speaker, facilitator and self-defense expert specializing in sexual assault and violence prevention education, gender-based violence prevention, and boundary setting. She is the CEO of Girls Fight Back, Founder of Outdoor Defense and Lead Instructor with both IMPACT Personal Safety and IMPACT Global. She is also an NACP Credentialed Victim Advocate and a credentialed Empowerment Self-Defense Professional. Nicole speaks to diverse and gender inclusive groups both domestically and abroad. She is a passionate solo traveler, outdoors enthusiast, and is an adventure leader for the LA based non-profit, Black Girls Trekkin. Nicole is committed to ending violence in all of its forms and strives to empower people with the skills to live without limits!
About Girls Fight Back
Girls Fight Back was founded in 2001 by Erin Weed in direct response to the murder of her friend and sorority sister, Shannon McNamara. Girls Fight Back’s mission is to provide practical and empowering options for women, girls and people of all gender identities to learn valuable and life-saving violence prevention skills. Nicole Snell took over the company in 2020 and has expanded the training catalog to serve even more communities and address more diverse topics. All programs are rooted in evidence-based methods and empowerment self-defense methodology, which is designed to make preventing violence and fighting back an approachable topic for everyone. Girls Fight Back has reached over 1 million people worldwide with their inclusive and interactive keynotes, workshops, and seminars. Nicole’s goal is to help people live a safer, more confident, and limitless life while being their own best protector!
Link to Outdoor Defense Videos: youtube.com/@Nicole_Snell
Link to Website: www.nicolesnell.com