I have a friend who both mystifies and inspires me with her friend making abilities. She is that person who, in just a few minutes makes friends with everyone in the room. I used be open to being friends with just about everyone and if you’ve followed me for a while, you know how that went. My friend is currently considering strengthening her boundaries, but there are three things healthy boundaries can’t do.
I’ve wondered how she does it, how she avoids drama, betrayal, and the many issues that come with relationships. Recently, though, she hit a rough patch with someone, and wondered whether she should learn more about setting boundaries.
It was my beloved Dr. Jo who had the first discussions with me about developing healthy boundaries, and who encouraged me to consider potential friends carefully before jumping in with both feet. She taught me that it was ok to step away from relationships where my boundaries were not respected, and not to feel guilty about it.
Some of us naturally have a clear sense of boundaries, while others of us struggle with them, like me. I’ve had to do a lot of work around boundaries, and am still making mistakes and learning.
Reducing my social life to a few very close friends and stepping out of the drama zone has significantly reduced my stress level, and I guess I’m happy in this quieter space I now inhabit. It’s not for everyone, I know, and most especially not for my good friend. She loves being with people and in the thick of all things social. She’s the first to raise her hand to help on projects, the first to plan a great get together, and loves to bring people together. I love that about her.
She’s been burnt, and is trying to figure out how to heal the pain and prevent future hurt. I completely get it. Often, we try to be nice and let things slide with people, a snarky comment here, a questionable situation there, and before we know it, we are facing hurt and violated boundaries. But I’m not sure creating boundaries is the answer.
Boundaries don’t prevent us from being hurt.
Boundaries don’t prevent people from doing and saying unkind things. Nor do they prevent us from being hurt when people do or say hurtful things. Often, this is when we realize a boundary has been overstepped or that we’ve let things slide to the point we find ourselves hurt.
Boundaries work only when we enforce them.
I had an acquaintance who was very interested in having a relationship with me. I was not interested in the type of relationship he wanted, but I hoped, we could be friendly…and so did he…Each time we interacted, I felt I was being pushed…and pushed past every boundary I set. There came a point I could no longer be “nice” about it. I cut ties and walked away.
Boundaries only work when we don’t over ride them.
In another situation, a friend asked me to co-host a party with her. I had known her to be difficult, in fact very few of our social group liked her. My first instinct was to beg off. Instead, I found myself saying yes and figuring I could “manage” the situation. Within hours, she began texting me with a variety of “assignments”. The following day, I begged off. In response, I received an email stating I was selfish and lazy. Clearly, I should have paid attention to my instincts!
We also walk on the wild side when we accept friendships with people whom we observe doing underhanded, mean an malicious things to others while being nice to us. We may feel safe because we think we are on the “good side” of the person. Perhaps we think that those on the receiving end deserve the bad treatment, so we overlook the meanness in our friend. It’s all good until we’re on the receiving end…and that point always comes, unfortunately.
Boundaries are, at best, guide posts.
We have more boundaries than we may be aware of. Boundaries whisper to through our instincts and intuition, and yell at us through anger, stress, discomfort, and feelings of being violated. All of these indicate we need to speak up, make a change, take a stance and sometimes even end a relationship. Often, however, we try avoid conflict. We try to be nice. In the end, it rarely works.
One of the things I discovered as I worked with Dr. Jo on boundaries was that it’s best to nip some of these ‘“friendships” in the bud; and not get involved to begin with, to listen to our instincts (which clearly I don’t always do).
A few weeks ago, I began experimenting with the query: “Does being with this person expand me or diminish me?” I wrote another blog post about friendship where I explored this idea. Perhaps using this question as a guide might help weed out some of the boundary violators out there?