Boundaries & Their Meanings ft. words from Nedra Glover Tawwab

By Marian Haile

Disclaimer: In no way am I an expert on boundaries and I am still on my journey to be the best that I can be. This article is merely a stepping stone! Enjoy:)

Today, living in the digital world will most likely have you reexamining yourself as well as comparing the long term or recent relationships you have built. What once felt like a pure looking glass is now deemed as a nuanced tool to help people heal from past, and oftentimes traumatic experiences. Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter encourages healthy, vetted advice through a cumulative process alongside experts and everyday users; it allows creators and users alike to learn from previous mistakes and respond to suggestions and stories they believe are toxic or, on the other hand, healthy. The internet today is fascinated with topics such as boundaries, red flags, and what it means to be in a healthy relationship as it affects intersectional identities across the globe.

The new “red flag 🚩” trend at the moment–which emerged from Black Twitter, might I add, has really promoted a new type of internet intimacy where people bring up and discuss dating deal breakers or disagreeable behaviors in any type of relationship you enter. Despite some of these definite no-no’s being serious, there are silly and funny ones like:

While other tweets call for conversation:

With the numerous red flags people shared, discussions surrounding green lights and boundaries began to form. Every red flag comes from a self-made boundary: “that imaginary line that separate me from you”. Whether it’s your friend trying to find a good pic of the person they like or someone practicing the ideology of racial “colorblindness”, there is a reason and newfound boundary that comes with your perceived red flag.

In order to make sure your red flag is truly a red flag, it’s associated boundary, i.e. “the ability to change your mind” or “the right to remain true to your principles”, has it’s own meaning. Your boundary and it’s meaning helps guide you to establish a better relationship with yourself and others’. It isn’t just about red flags or even it’s associated boundary, but also green lights and the meaning behind those boundaries. This will elevate your understanding of who you are, who you want to be, and what you want your relationships to look like.

Below is a list some of the boundary meanings from Nedra Glover Tawwab, Black therapist, relationship expert, and NYT bestselling author. A true visionary, the meanings are from an excerpt from Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, alongside my own commentary.

Boundaries…

…are a safeguard to overextending yourself

Self-preservation comes to mind when I think of the future of the Black womxn and combatting overextending yourself. There are many generations before us that have shown womxn, especially melanated womxn being the ‘ride-or-die’ best friend, the ‘resilient warrior’ womxn, or the encouraging, strong partner that carries a relationship. What comes with this, however, is over exhaustion and even resentment. When you develop the boundaries of ‘saying no’, ‘asking for space’, or ‘the right to remain true to your principles’, remember that those boundaries prevent you from overextending yourself because they function as safeguards or protection.

When it comes to romantic relationships, early on is when you need to look for the red flags that come with overextending yourself for safety reasons, as Black womxn continue at an increased rate of experiencing domestic violence and domestic homicide. It is paramount to enter relationships you feel safe in and that provide instinctual protective energy. Know your boundaries, be able to identify red flags and green flags within yourself, the other person, and the situation, and listen to what the people you care about (and that care for YOU) have to say about a partner. This will honor the lines you choose not to cross and how you want to be treated.

Associated Boundaries: saying no, asking for space, the right to remain true to your principles, knowing your own emotions, appropriately vetting a potential partner

Associated Red Flags: over exhaustion, resentment, isolation, boundary betrayals, burnout, physical harm

Associated Green Flags: long-standing friendships, honoring boundaries, self-compassion, feeling safe and replenished with others

…are a self-care practice

Self-care is more than a late-night facemask and journaling religiously every night. Self-care can be getting to know the great and positive things that make you you and loving that about yourself. Or it might even mean tending to what you know you need at the moment or getting/asking for help anytime it’s necessary. Self-care is doing right by you and practicing this as much as you can and not giving yourself grief if you can’t do so all the time. It means living in the now and not the past.

Remember: you are not expected to take care of others if you don’t expect to take care of yourself; I say this with love, fyi. All in all, boundaries are supposed to help you take care of you.

Associated Boundaries: seeking some type of therapy, using positive language, putting yourself first when necessary, ceasing to care what others’ think about you when all you need is your own validation, getting to know who you are as a person

Associated Red Flags: negative self-talk, seeking advice from those who don’t have your best interest at heart, putting yourself on the back-burner, having “people-pleasing” tendencies that leave you exhausted or burnt out, not knowing yourself and how you feel about yourself, never having something to look forward to in the week/in the month/in life/etc.

Associated Green Flags: feeling seen/heard, feeling replenished, being confidently lost, being able to measure or noticing self-growth and inner healing, accomplishing goals, receiving enough self-validation to get you through the day

…define roles in relationships/...are a way to create healthy relationships

Not knowing where we stand with someone is the absolute worse, like in certain situationships, a frenemy situation, compromising co-worker relations, or not knowing how to set boundaries with family members effectively. Boundaries mean specifying who we are in the relationships we navigate almost everyday. Having boundaries that don’t define roles might negatively impact us or not benefit us in the long-run. You aren’t ever trying to fit in but, instead, feeling like you belong. It’s time for some concrete footings in our boundary journey and it starts with some titles.

Associated Boundaries: being direct, revisiting issues that are important to you, expecting respect, dictating your own feelings, establishing identity/roles outside of a relationship, the ability to change your mind

Associated Red Flags: constantly cutting off others without communication, cruelty towards you or others’, not establishing/enforcing boundaries, disrespecting others or being disrespectful, being unclear with everyone, unchanging/being stuck in one place, resentment, possessing inexplicable or “new” feelings

Associated Green Flags: having a constant flow of communication, uncomplicated, yet complex relationships, knowing who your friends are, having a title(s) in your relationships, self-respect, being respectful, being honest, self-growth, having boundaries

…communicate acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in relationships

Realizing what makes us feel comfortable and knowing what doesn’t will always stem from our personalities, our past, and general likes/dislikes. Making a list, communicating, and being able to identify behaviors that we deem acceptable or not will have a large impact in how people in your life interact with you, as well as how comfortable you feel with others. Whether it creates a cultural conversation, a discussion on gender, a sex talk, or a racial understanding, it will narrow down the list of people you know you need in your life, the concepts and morals you value, and the respect you know you deserve.

Associated Boundaries: not wanting to be touched, saying no, expecting respect, communicating discomfort, standing up for yourself, the ability to change your mind, expressing spiritual and sexual boundaries, the right to remain true to your principles

Associated Red Flags: feeling unsafe, feeling uncomfortable, suppressing your inner voice, being physically/emotionally violated, emotionally/physically violating others, not being listened to/heard & vice versa, noticing an increase of personally unacceptable behaviors from partners/friends/family members/co-workers, being in a situation where you are unsafe and hurt physically and emotionally

Associated Green Flags: feeling safe, feeling free, practicing necessary assertiveness, self-respect, being respected, being able to be yourself, honoring physical/emotional boundaries and having your physical/emotional boundaries met, being observant of your own behaviors, being understood/being understanding, respecting spiritual and sexual boundaries


Marian Haileis a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.Β 

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