Unlike other connections in our lives, such as those we have with relatives and co-workers, we get to choose our friends. These social connections matter, and research shows they can enhance our lives in many ways. It can be challenging to set a boundary with a friend, especially if it isn’t something you’re used to.
Below, we’ll discuss how boundary setting might support you and your friendships, how to set boundaries, and what to do if you need help.
How To Set Boundaries With Friends
Let's say that you identify a need to set a boundary with a friend, but you're nervous about how it could impact the relationship. You might be concerned that you'll hurt their feelings or find that your boundary isn't respected when you try to set one. If you are having trouble setting a boundary and are looking for additional thoughts on how to go about doing it, you might consider the following tips:
Be clear and firm. Although boundaries can be set kindly, you may find more success if your request is also clear and firm. Sometimes, someone may try to push back against your boundaries, which can be challenging. In this case, you can reiterate the boundary and enforce it. This could look like saying something like "I let you know that I did not want advice on that topic. If it comes up again, I will have to hang up the phone for now and talk to you later."
Be mindful of your language. This might help if you are someone who worries about potentially upsetting a friend with your boundary. Consider using "I" statements and focusing on what you need. For example, you might state, "I'm uncomfortable dining in restaurants right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. I understand that everyone is in a different spot with that. Can we meet in the park or order some takeout together?” Boundaries don’t have to sound like an attack; there are often ways to set them kindly.
Plan ahead. It can be helpful to plan what to say before you say it. Sometimes, role-playing can be valuable, especially if you feel nervous about setting a boundary you need to set. This is a common activity that people might try with a therapist.
Learning to set boundaries can be a process for many people, and it's okay if you need support and practice. Try to be gentle with yourself as you learn. A therapist may be able to help with boundary setting and serve as a helpful addition to your support system during this process.
When To Set A Boundary
Some potential clues may help you know when a boundary needs to be set with a friend. If you feel resentful, irritated, or hurt by what someone else is doing or saying and haven't brought it up, it may be time to set a boundary. Additionally, if you feel that you're giving up information about yourself that you don't want to provide, or if you're giving away items or money that you can't give at this time, it may be time to set a boundary.
Understanding different types of boundaries may help you acknowledge a potential need to set one.
Why Boundaries Are Important In Friendships
Why are boundaries so important in friendships? Here are some potential benefits of setting boundaries:
Boundaries Can Change Patterns.
Sometimes, we get into patterns that we want to change. This can be relevant in friendships as well as other parts of life. When we want to change a pattern, our needs might also change. For example, maybe you are in a pattern where you are used to allowing friends to borrow money from you. Setting boundaries may help you change that pattern.
Boundaries Can Prevent Resentment.
One of the challenges many people face when setting boundaries is that they feel it'll hurt a person or their relationship with that person. However, it may be that the opposite is true in many cases. Boundaries may prevent resentment and support a healthier friendship with no underlying negative feelings.
Boundaries Can Promote Self-Care.
Boundaries can be a way to take care of yourself. For example, maybe your friends pressure you to stay out later than you want. You're an early riser with a job requiring you to wake at a certain time, and when you don't get enough sleep, you find yourself not feeling well. If your boundary is that you need to leave at 9 PM because that's what allows you to complete your bedtime routine and get enough sleep, this could be a way to take better care of both your mind and body.
Boundaries Can Increase Confidence.
Boundaries Can Make You A Better Friend.
When your needs are met, you may have the capacity to be the best version of yourself with other people. If you set boundaries, your friends may realize that they can do the same in their own lives, and you can be there for them as your healthiest self.
Types Of Boundaries And Examples
At varying times in your life, you may need to learn how to set boundaries with a mix of different people, including your friends. Here are six common types of boundaries you might encounter with friends:
Time Boundaries: Time boundaries are just what they sound like and relate to the time you have or how you spend your time. An example of a time boundary might be "I will need to leave in two hours" or "I don't have time that day. Do you happen to be free on Wednesday or Friday instead?"
Material Boundaries: Material boundaries relate to the tangible items you own, such as money and personal belongings. An example of a material boundary might be "I'm not able to let people borrow my car right now."
Physical Boundaries: Physical boundaries relate to your personal space, physical touch, and physical needs. An example of a physical boundary might be "I have a peanut allergy, so please do not bring food with peanuts to the potluck" or "Can we opt for a handshake instead of a hug?"
Emotional Boundaries: Emotional boundaries relate to your emotional well-being. An example of an emotional boundary might be "Movies on this topic are tough for me to watch. Is there another you've been wanting to see?" or "I don't feel good when people use that nickname. Please call me by my first name instead."
Intellectual Boundaries: Intellectual boundaries relate to your thoughts and ideas. If someone crosses an intellectual boundary, it might look like someone who gives you unsolicited advice while putting your choices down or someone who belittles you and puts you down for your ideas, whether overtly or covertly. An example of an intellectual boundary might be "I respect that we have different thoughts on this, but I know that this is the right choice for me" or "It seems like this topic often results in an argument. I am willing to agree to disagree. Can we change the subject?"
Sexual Boundaries: Sexual boundaries relate to both sex and topics related to sex. In sexual relationships, a sexual boundary could sound like "I don't feel like having sex tonight. Would you want to cuddle and watch a movie?" In friendships, however, this can also look like saying, "I'm not comfortable talking about my sex life," or, "That story could reveal someone else's information and cross a boundary, so I prefer not to answer that question about my sex life."
This isn't necessarily an exhaustive list. Some other types of boundaries could include workplace boundaries, spiritual and religious boundaries, and digital boundaries related to texting and phone calls.
Talk To A Counselor About Setting Boundaries
If you’ve tried to set boundaries with your friends and aren’t finding success, it may be beneficial to speak with a mental health professional. Online therapy can be a convenient way to get quality mental health support from a licensed counselor without the traditional barriers associated with mental health care. Just like in-person therapy, BetterHelp can provide a safe place to talk about anything on your mind, including friendships and boundaries.
Thousands of qualified, independent providers with varying specialties offer therapy on the BetterHelp platform, which means you can connect with someone who has experience with whatever you might be facing. With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist through live chat, phone, or videoconferencing. Also, you can contact them at any time in between sessions via in-app messaging. This may prove to be helpful if you want to message them about conversations you’ve had about boundaries in between sessions.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of challenges. One literature review found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) is effective for various psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and phobias. CBT is a common therapeutic framework that aims to teach people how to replace their unhelpful thoughts with more positive ones.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Do I Start Setting Boundaries?
Boundaries relate to what you allow in your life, mind, and space. It's healthy and reasonable to set boundaries. This can be vital to remember if you are someone who has trouble setting boundaries but wants to start. You might already have a boundary that you want to set. It might help to think about how you will communicate your needs.
For example, maybe your friend jokes about your partner in a way that you’re uncomfortable with, or perhaps they ask about something you’re not comfortable talking about, like your sex life or finances. There are ways to communicate this firmly but compassionately. Using “I” statements may help because these statements put the focus on you and your feelings. For example, “I respect the importance of what you’re asking, but I feel uncomfortable talking about my salary.” It can also be beneficial to have a topic change in mind. For example, in addition to the boundary, you might say, “I would love to hear about your vacation."
How Do You Establish Boundaries With Friends?
People often want the boundaries they establish with friends to be expressed kindly and directly. Adding something positive or supportive to the statement or conversation may help. For example, if the boundary you want to set relates to time, you might say, "I wanted to give you a heads up that I will have to head out at 5:30 so that I can make it home in time for dinner. I'm excited to see you!"
Again, "I" statements can also be beneficial. Once you set a boundary, it may help to be firm and consistent. It can be productive, in some instances, to have a conversation and let a friend know that it isn't personal. Maybe your friend asked a question you were uncomfortable with the last time you spoke. The next time you see them, they express that they felt hurt when you declined to answer. This is an example of an occasion where a conversation might be your next move.
What Are Some Boundaries In A Friendship?
Boundaries in a friendship could relate to several different topics or actions. They can include how a friend talks to or about you, the conversation topics you're willing to engage in, the activities you're willing to engage in, or your time and space. For example, if you are not comfortable going to a specific event, but it's what your friends want to do, you can let them know that you want to sit this one out but would love for them to come over for a game night. Or perhaps a friend wants you to engage in gossip about another person, and you're not comfortable doing that. You can tell them that you're uncomfortable talking about that person when they're not there. These are both examples of boundaries.
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