17 Feb Because Friendships Need Boundaries Too
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brene Brown
A little over a year ago, I found myself sobbing in my kitchen with my head in my hands crying out, “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anyone like me?”
A lunch I had with a “friend” earlier that day was what led me to this pitiful moment where I was about to burst into the song nobody, “Likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll just go eat worms.”
The next day, I decided to brave another lunch with a different friend, one who I would consider one of my closest. During the lunch, this friend made a keen observation.
She explained I needed to limit who I allowed to speak into my life. To have a handful of trusted confidants whose opinion I took to heart, because I knew they always had my best interests at heart. And to let other voices, ones who haven’t earned the right, to roll off my shoulders.
BOUNDARIES IN FRIENDSHIPS
I’d heard of boundaries before. I knew it was important on so many levels. But I never thought of it in this context.
Last year, I wrote an article about friendship, and in that article I described a switch in my life in regard to friendships. Instead of casting my net a mile wide and inch deep, wanting everyone to be my friend, I realized true, enriching friendship is found in the inch-wide, mile-deep kinds of friends.
And sadly, the “friend” who left me in tears was more the mile-wide kind, with little to no depth to our relationship. She hadn’t earned the right to speak into my life the way I allowed her too.
I didn’t realize it at the time when I was sobbing in my kitchen, but I was learning a valuable lesson in boundaries in friendships.
From this vantage point, I believe there are two situations we can find ourselves in when it comes to setting boundaries with friends:
- Friendships Which Have Grown Toxic
- Who We Allow to Speak into Our Lives (this one is for all the people pleasers out there!)
FRIENDSHIPS WHICH HAVE GROWN TOXIC
Toxic friendships are those which drain you, leave you feeling empty, less than, or used.
- It’s the friend who calls only to talk about herself and all of her problems, and as soon as you start to mention a word about your life, suddenly she has too go.
- Or, the friend who constantly puts you down or makes you feel less than.
- It’s the friendship which seems to be a constant competition, one trying to one-up the other.
When you can’t be yourself, and you’re constantly trying to please someone else, your friendship might be toxic.
When you are constantly serving as your friends verbal punching bag, this might be a sign the relationship is unhealthy.
When you are the shoulder to cry on and give your heart and soul to help your friend, only to find she doesn’t ever listen to a word you say and continues to make the same mistakes over and over without ever learning, and expects you to continue to be there, then some boundaries might need to be put in place.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be there for people. I believe quite the opposite, as I explained in this article, The Best Kind of Friend.
However, there are times friendships grow from the Galatians 6:2 kind of friend, where you bear each other’s burdens, to the toxic version of where you drown under the weight of someone else’s burdens.
Once we’ve identified these kinds of toxic friendships, the question is, what do we do with them?
The first thought might be to cut them out of your life. However, Dr. Henry Cloud shares different advice in this short video he recorded about this very subject.
Dr. Cloud explained, “We don’t need to be the one to kick people out of our lives, what we need to do is behave in a way that unless their behavior changes they don’t want to be in our lives.”
In other words, start having standards and enforcing them. If you begin to have expectations in a relationship, people will then have to choose whether they want to change their behavior or stop being close to you.
For example, if you have a friend who is habitually making the same mistakes over and over again, and then burdening you with the consequences of their bad choices, despite the advice you’ve given them, you will have to make some changes. And when you explain to you friend you can’t keep doing this—especially if she is unwilling to listen to you—then you won’t be able to continue offering this counsel over and over again. In other words, you stop enabling the behavior and setup the expectation your friend needs to make some real changes in their life, or this relationship can’t continue.
In this manner, Dr. Cloud explains, you don’t have to end the relationship, your standards do if they are unwilling to change.
And herein lies the key to boundaries. These boundaries take on a life of their own and protect you from being taking advantage of by others.
FOR THE PEOPLE PLEASERS
If you’re a people person like me, it probably comes natural to you to let people in. Not only that, but I’m a rather open book. Ask me anything, I typically won’t hold back.
While authenticity is crucial to forming lasting bonds with people, we have to be careful to not allow people in too quickly. Because, if you let everyone in, and let everyone have a voice and opinion on who you are and what you do, you’ll earn yourself a case of whiplash of the worst kind, not knowing who’s voice to listen to—and worse, being hurt by voices you never should have heard in the first place.
It was an exhausting way to live, trying to please everyone. And it left me crushed under the weight of trying to make everyone happy and never succeeding.
The secret I learned: this is impossible. We can never make every person happy, and we have to decide to choose ourselves over those who haven’t earned the right to speak into our lives.
There’s nothing wrong with being open. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to connect with people you meet. Actually, I think it’s a fun way to live. You just have to set standards for who you listen to and be sure to exercise caution as you let people in.
We have to identify those friendships in our lives which we can trust. People who know us, who have been through the tough struggles and are still by our sides, those we have a mutual respect for and who’s mere presence is edifying.
If someone shares their opinion with you, like the one that led to me weeping in my kitchen over a comment I never should have taken to heart, be sure to bring it to one of those trusted friends and run it through the filter of someone who really knows you and has earned the right to speak into your life.
Don’t let every opinion or voice sway you like a leaf tumbling in the wind. Stand firm in knowing who you are and your value and create boundaries to prevent the wrong voices from speaking too loudly.
Boundaries in friendships are the healthy way to prevent the total life collapse a toxic friendship can produce. Set standards and uphold them. You deserve to give this gift to yourself.
Ruth Soukup says it beautifully in her article on boundaries in friendship:
“Friends are so important. They bring us joy. They’re there for us and they make us better people. Keep your friendships strong by knowing which friendships are worth pouring extra time and energy into and which are better left as Facebook contacts.”
Whatever lines you need to draw with people in your life, be sure to always handle lovingly, leading with grace. But, make sure you implement healthy boundaries with every friendship you have.
What kinds of boundaries have you had to set with your friends? Do you find it difficult to set boundaries in this area? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!