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  • Writer's pictureMargeaux Edwards, Clinical Coordinator Intern

How to Tell the Difference Between Relationship Boundaries and Attempts to Control

Jonah Hills’ ex-girlfriend, professional surfer Sarah Brady recently shared text messages sent by Jonah during their relationship in which he claims to communicate his boundaries with her. In the texts, he tells her he does not want her to work with men, to model, to post pictures of herself in a bathing suit, or to have friendships with “unstable” women.

When reading the word “boundary,” you may think of a time in your life when you set a boundary with another person or another person set a boundary with you. Setting boundaries is an effective and healthy way for one person to draw a clear line with another person.

The water begins to get murky when a covert attempt to control another person is mislabeled and misconstrued as setting a boundary. Boundaries stem from a person wanting to change their own behavior in response to a situation.

Setting a boundary can sound like this:

  1. “I need some time to figure out how I feel about this.”

  2. “I’m prioritizing rest right now.”

  3. “I won’t make it tonight. I’ve got too much going on right now.”

Attempts to control a person can sound like this:

  1. “I need you to stop doing __.”

  2. “You can’t wear __.”

  3. “I don’t want you to be friends with __.”

As a rule of thumb, a good way to detect whether a person may be attempting to assert control over another person is to gauge whether the person is using “I” statements or “you” statements. Oftentimes, when setting a boundary, the person setting the boundary will make statements using the word “I” and rarely make statements using the word “you.” Using therapeutic jargon to mask what is really an attempt to strip someone of their choice and autonomy is manipulative and unacceptable.

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