I get it. It’s difficult. Do you ever feel like when you see that friend calling, you’re not looking forward to the phone call? Or after talking to this person, you feel drained? I hear you. It’s hard to talk to your friends about it, especially when you anticipate how your friend will respond. You worry that your friend won’t take it well and that will be the end of your friendship.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not easy, but that it’s not impossible.
Most likely, your friends will respond well to your setting those boundaries. So where to start? With you! Why do I say this? When we take the time for ourselves, we’ve grown accustomed to taking care of ourselves in all aspects of our lives, including in our relationships. So when we start with ourselves, it becomes more natural to trust ourselves and to assert ourselves with others.
This is all so abstract sometimes. What do we say to "set boundaries"? Let's say that you know that you will have a busy work-week, so you might tell your friend, "I can't meet this week. It's really hectic."
We might not know when we'll be ready to hang out with a certain friend. And that's okay.
Part of setting boundaries is listening to what feels good to you. So you might sink into that ambivalence, and when your friend asks if you can attend an event, you might say, "I'm not sure. Can I get back to you?" If you really want to hold yourself accountable, or if you feel pressured to respond, you might include when you'll make the decision, "Can I let you know by Friday?"
Empathize with yourself.
It is scary to set boundaries. Recognize that it does take courage to set a boundary, especially if it is not something that you’re used to doing. Acknowledge the possible guilt of stating what you need, and let yourself know how important and empowering it will feel once you do set the boundary.
Remind yourself that setting your boundaries is an act of taking care of yourself.
For all of us people-pleasers out there, you can let yourself know that sharing what you need is being of service to that friend: by stating what we need, we are not expecting the other person to read our minds. We are also giving the other person a chance to be held accountable for their actions.
When you set that boundary, we create that space for others to respect us.
Let’s say that we set a boundary with our friend, and she doesn’t end up responding positively to our boundary, it’s information. It can be revealing and difficult: our friend’s response lets us know if we want to continue that friendship, based on whether that person can respect our boundary.
Learn about the rules that you’ve created for yourself. In the back of our minds, we might have these “shoulds” or “musts” that dictate our habits. For example, you might think, “I shouldn’t think of this as such a big deal.” In a statement like this, we’re taking away from how the situation impacts you. We invalidate what we’re feeling. We get so caught up in how it affects us that it makes it difficult to move beyond it. What do I mean by this? By thinking that we shouldn’t be affected by it, we become consumed by guilt and shame, “So why can’t I do it?”, rather than “I guess it is affecting me.”
Now let’s apply this thought process to the rules that we’ve created for ourselves.
Maybe you make dinner regularly, and you think “I must make dinner every day”. The difficulty with statements like these is that we have created rigidity for ourselves, and we might want to rebel against these “rules” we’ve created for ourselves. Then you might have one of those days where you eat all the bread, and you’re stuck in frustration and shame. We learn to work with our tendencies. If you enjoy eating bread, then it might be helpful to create some flexibility so that you don’t have the need to rebel.
Maybe you learn that the keto diet isn’t for you, and instead, you might carve out specific meals where you allow yourself to eat bread.
These beliefs might come up as "I can't because of…"
Write a list of these "limitations ". I put them in quotation marks because these thoughts are merely perceived. In order to detach from these perceptions, we might shift our thinking. Ask yourself if these thoughts are helpful, rather than if they're true. Let’s say that you’re trying to make it a regular habit to go to the gym, “I can’t go to the gym because I’m too tired.” See what it’d be like to shift this to, “I can…” by acknowledging your situation and assuming responsibility. Here’s how we’d apply this to our gym example, “I can meet my friend at the gym after work when I’m tired”. Now how can you use the “I can…” framework. Brainstorm different ways that you can work around your situation. If your statement is “I can’t because I’m too busy or I don’t have enough money”, think about how you can fit a task in a manageable amount of time. Start off with something manageable. Even if we start by adding in five minutes a week, we gain confidence and momentum. We prove to ourselves that we can fit it into our schedules when we thought it wasn’t possible.
Let’s say that we’ve added something to our list, but it continues to be added to the list because we keep putting it off or avoiding it.
Maybe it’s replacing the dead lightbulb at your house and you never get around to it because you have access to other lights. Having someone keep you company might give you that push. Even if it’s replacing a lightbulb, I’m sure that your friend wouldn’t mind sitting there with you. Teaching it is another alternative. Let’s say that you’ve been putting off fixing your wi-fi connection. Maybe you’d have your friend hold you accountable. This is when worrying about how others perceive us can be advantageous. You might want to avoid feeling like you’ve “messed up”, and this added pressure might help you get that task done.
I used to hesitate and question what I had to say. Remaining in self-doubt required so much energy, and I wondered if my thoughts were valid or valuable. My self-consciousness furthered this spiral; because I felt insecure about what I would say, I prevented myself from interacting with and connecting with others. I felt alone in these thoughts. But through personal work and through practice, I learned that none of this was true. Soon enough, it no longer mattered what others thought. It was through this openness and walking through this discomfort that I gained meaningful relationships with others and felt more comfortable in my own skin. I began to love myself and feel more confident.
Because of my own path, confidence is one of those topics close to my heart. I am excited about sharing these exercises with you!