One of the most common difficulties I hear about when people make changes such as implementing boundaries and basically treating themselves with love, care, trust, and respect, is that they discover that where they may have lacked boundaries with their relationships, there have also been issues with their friendships.
While I’m very fortunate that I’ve had a lot of the same friends for a very long time, I admit that when I learned to love myself, it turned out that I had been giving shelter to ‘friends’, who like Mr Unavailables and assclowns, detracted from and relied on me being someone who didn’t always act in my own best interests.
Examples: The friend who is angry because after countless times of her using you like a taxi service at all hours, you’ve said NO.
The friend who asks if you can keep an eye on her child one evening and then drops her child around every evening…without asking.
The friend who gets angry because she made plans, assumed you would do a task for her, and then is surprised when you say NO.
The friend who just assumes you’ll pay for everything and won’t put her hand in her pocket and then gets mad when for the first time, you rightly ask her to pay her share.
The friend who loves telling you who you should be and gets mad at you when you won’t follow her advice, even though it may not be in your best interests or you’re not ready.
Change is not something that just affects you; it has a ripple effect on the relationships attached to you. There are relationships that will embrace the difference in you and be happy that you are taking care of yourself even if it impacts on things that you may or may not do as a result of it.
There are also other relationships where the person will feel inconvenienced, threatened, or confused – these people see you changing as something that negatively impacts on them. It could be that it casts an uncomfortable light on them forcing them to see their own behaviours, or that it makes them feel left behind in your old life, that they feel inconvenienced because you are not as amenable as you used to be making it difficult for them to take advantage of and abuse you, or they feel inadequate and are scared they will lose you and put up resistance.
In some instances, you may have been heavy handed with boundaries, something that can happen when you feel like you’ve been a yes person and temporarily see saying yes, even if it’s to something good, as some sort of negative.
You can also find that some friendships are emotionally demanding with too many expectations that cross into your boundaries and it’s important to put some distance and establish boundaries to stop or avoid co-dependency.
Boundaries are there, not to trap you in chains and shut people out, but to free you to enjoy a positive, healthy experience in line with your values that let’s you love, live, and like with self-esteem.
If your boundaries keep certain people out that’s OK – they’re supposed to. You’re not a free for all knocking shop!
If you’ve not had boundaries and surrounded yourself with people who have at best taken advantage of your lack of boundaries, and at worst, abused them, then yes, initially when you live your life with boundaries there is going to be a short-term knock on effect. It’s tough, but it’s life.
If these people resist the fact that you are not prepared to allow yourself to be abused, taken advantage of, and do anything that feels at odds with your own personal happiness, it’s because a you with boundaries doesn’t work for them.
While there is always room for compromise with any relationship (not just romantic), if you are compromising where it causes you to compromise yourself and to avoid conflict and hold on to friends, this is not healthy compromise.
Friends, like romantic partners, should not require you to be compromised so that they can be happy, whether that’s because they blatantly expect you to do it and demand it, or because you compromise yourself so you can hold on to friendships.
Just like when I say to people that it’s dangerous to be in a romantic relationship because you’d rather have them on any terms rather than none, the same applies to friendship.
At what cost are you prepared to have people around you that you can bag and tag as pseudo friends? I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have friends – I’m saying that just like relationships, make better choices and carry yourself authentically so that you can have a better quality of friend otherwise you will end up with inauthentic friendships.
If when you come up against resistance from a friend because you’re not prepared to do something it translates to, ‘They are mad at me because I won’t do something that I’m really uncomfortable with and it would have me living outside of my values’, then you have to stand behind your decision. While you can of course, look for a healthy compromise, if they’re asking you to do something that is fundamentally wrong for you, don’t do it.
Really, the same core things apply at the heart of friendships – there needs to be boundaries in every last relationship that you have – not just romantic. Your boundaries are basically your personal electric fence and you consciously and subconsciously use these to navigate everything from work, family, friends, acquaintances, strangers etc.
Like romantic friendships, shared values are what will actually tie your friendship and cause it to endure. As I have discovered since becoming a mother, it takes more than procreating around the same time, getting a c-section scar or some vaginal tears, and having a child, to give you something in common with another person!
Just like when you’re in relationships, you could share a gazillion interests but if those values are off, that person will leave you feeling confused or if you try to swing over to their values corner, having you acting out of sync with yourself.
Friendships, like when you’re dating, require you each to behave with integrity, to act with care, to act with trust and be trustworthy, to be respected and respectful. You may not ‘love’ someone that you are friends with (unless you’re close friends) but that doesn’t stop you from acting with the same care and consideration that you would expect for yourself.
Like relationships, not all friendships are created equal and built to last. People have friends for various different reasons and they may not actually be aligned with your own and they may have different ideas of what they feel constitutes a friendship – this is a classic example of different values. If their idea of a friendship is one where they wield power over you and step all over your boundaries, it’s not a friendship.
I would also say proceed with caution with any ‘friend’ who pulls the whole ‘If you were a real friend, you’d do X, Y, Z’ because just replace ‘friend’ with ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ and listen to how crass that sounds.
That said, when you are making big changes in your life, it’s important to recognise that not everybody will be on board or some will not quite be at the same pace. You have to manage change.
This doesn’t mean pussyfooting around your friends because at the end of the day, you’re entitled to act with love, care, trust, and respect, but recognise that it may take a bit of time for some to ‘acclimatise’ to the new you. It won’t necessarily be that they want you not to act in your best interests but it may be that they are uncertain about where they fit.
While you addressing your own needs may feel all consuming to you and a major priority, it may be difficult for some friends to feel it to the same extent. They may not ‘get’ what you’re going through especially if stuff like having boundaries and living in line with their values is foreign to them. Talk to them, tell them what you’re experiencing. When you explain, don’t do it to seek validation because it’s up to you to be behind your decision but tell them because you want them to be a part of your life.
However one common mistake that people make is trying to get their friends who they deem to need changing too, to adapt with them – be careful of preaching your new gospel as at times it may inadvertently come across that you’re ‘down’ on their choices.
Sometimes when you say NO, it’s not because of any particular boundary per se; it’s because for whatever reason, you don’t want to do it. It could be that it is inconvenient, it could be that you don’t like whatever it is that’s being asked or expected, and sometimes, you just don’t want to. Sometimes we know not why we don’t want to do something.
If you can on balance, reflect and say to yourself that there are plenty of other occasions that you have said YES, then that’s OK. We don’t have to do everything that everyone asks of us. If you’re saying NO for the hell of it, while you’re entitled to, recognise that if it’s a reasonable request, you may come across ‘unfriendly’.
But remember that if you have trained people to expect a YES from you, it will surprise them when you say NO. In their mind, they will have already planned around gaining agreement from you, so it will ‘mess up’ their plans. They will have to adapt. That doesn’t mean you should do it – no friend has any right to expect that you will do everything that they ask but step into their shoes from a moment and recognise that they’re not ‘used’ to a you that says NO, whether it’s because you just don’t feel like it or because it goes against your values and would have you feeling very uncomfortable.
One of the best things that you can do to manage the changes with your friends is to be up front. It doesn’t mean you won’t experience resistance and tension, but it will save the changes from feeling sudden and aggressive. For example, for the person who expects the friend to pay for everything, drop it into a conversation before you are out that you won’t be paying for it, that way they can choose whether they still want to go out. Yes it will hurt if they no longer want to do something because you won’t pay, but at least you’ll know where you stand.
If you know that you have shady friends, treat them like assclowns and Mr Unavailables and put your foot down very firmly and don’t lose sleep over explaining. But if they are fairly decent friends and you’re surprised by their resistance, explain your position. But remember, you shouldn’t have to justify why you’re treating yourself decently and people who genuinely care about you, will adapt to your boundaries in time. Be yourself consistently and they will get used to it but do recognise that if you have unhealthy friendships that they may not survive your changes. However, much like a toxic relationship, it’s not healthy to hold on to a toxic friendship.
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