Setting healthy boundaries in friendships can help you protect your identity and personal space. It can also prevent others from taking advantage of you or limiting what you want to do. Setting boundaries can enhance your mental and emotional well-being and actually strengthen your friendships.
This article will explore what boundaries are, when they’re necessary and why create them. The article will then discuss setting healthy boundaries, maintaining and enforcing them and finally supporting friendship and its boundaries.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are guidelines for acceptable behaviors, expectations and personal limits. Boundaries make it clear to the friends in your life what you want and will accept. While certain behaviors are never acceptable like bullying and gaslighting, you can stop well-intentioned overstepping by sharing about your boundaries.
Laurel Healy, LCSW, says “Sometimes we have friends we really like, but they make assumptions about the relationship that make us uncomfortable. They may drop by unannounced or expect to be included in everything we do. Rather than becoming resentful or letting an otherwise wonderful friend go, the most respectful thing we can do is address our differences. No rights, no wrongs.”
When Boundaries Are Needed
These lines you draw up help both you and your friends. Friends may criticize what you’re wearing or make you feel bad about your goal of running a marathon. Without realizing it, they could be crossing a line.
What kind of scenarios might prompt a talk about boundaries? Here are examples:
*A good friend insists that you reserve a weekend getaway for both of you although you’re too busy to travel.
*A childhood friend is often rude to you in front of others, but you don’t want to make a fuss.
*You work friend vents obsessively and needs emotional support day and night after their recent romantic breakup .You feel guilty if you don’t make yourself available to them.
Your best friend disrespects your values or beliefs. You’ve never spoken up about this before.
Why Create Boundaries?
It’s often easier to dismiss boundary-crossing behavior than deal with it. But avoidance coping is maladaptive. Instead of facing the problem head-on, this form of coping can create stress and anxiety. Other common byproducts of having no boundaries include resentment and distress.
While it’s tempting to look away, you need to speak up. Allowing others to overrun your boundaries has unhealthy consequences for you. Being unwilling to share your feelings or say no also prevents the other person from knowing what you feel and expect.
Setting up a discussion about your boundaries can contribute to open communication and mutual understanding between you and your friend. Although the thought of having a talk like this might create feelings of tension or dread, a scientific study identified lower levels of stress between friends who conversed about challenges compared to strangers.
Researchers analyzed communication during collaborative problem solving amongst younger and older women. Results showed reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the communications between friends, although the discussion was about a challenging subject.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
So, how do you set these boundaries? Good boundaries are clear, concise, and consistent. If you believe this will be an awkward conversation, don’t forget to actively listen, ask questions, be genuine and even use humor to lighten the discussion.
Here are tips on how to have this important conversation that will ultimately honor both you and your friend. Remember to use “I” statements and avoid accusations or insults.
*Begin by saying how you value the friendship.
*Communicate your boundaries simply and clearly.
*Express your needs, wants and limits.
*Don’t apologize or make excuses.
*Be firm, but also kind.
*Remind your friend you care about them.
How to Maintain and Enforce Boundaries
After stating the boundaries, your friend should understand what you’re asking of them. Direct communication enables you and your friend to avoid misunderstandings and even better the relationship.
To help you enforce these boundaries, you can use phrases like “That is hurtful to me so I want it to stop.” Or “This is what I need,” or “I understand you’re trying to help, but I want to make my own decision.”
“Setting a boundary is about having a discussion to determine how the have the best relationship possible. It’s important to be specific about what we want, to own our feelings, and to emphasize what we value about the person. Although these discussions are difficult, we give our friends a chance to change behavior they may not recognize as unwelcome.”
Laurel Healy, LCSW
If your friends resist your boundaries, keep reminding them. Provide gentle guidance and when necessary, use more assertive communication. If they refuse to honor the boundaries you’ve set, decide if the friendship is worth keeping.
Supporting Friendship and Its Boundaries
Friendships are fundamental for our growth. They offer trust, closeness and intimacy, which are valuable for our psychological and emotional well-being.
Friendship quality greatly affects our mental development during adolescence. A systematic review was recently conducted to understand the association between friendship quality and adolescents’ mental wellbeing. The review showed an association with happiness and good self-esteem and reinforced the value of healthy friendships.2
To have the best quality friendship you can, discuss the importance of respecting and supporting the boundaries your friend would like to set, too. By sharing our boundaries, we foster a culture of empathy and understanding. Honoring reciprocity is a win-win for both of you.
By Barbara Field and Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD