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Should I set boundaries with my friends if I risk not having any?

answered 09:50 AM EST, Tue April 15, 2014
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anonymous anonymous
If my only friend in the world does not respect my boundaries is it better to live with it or to stop it and then have no friends at all? I can’t decide which is better or which is worse. Sometimes it feels nice to have someone who calls me on the phone but sometimes I feel so upset for hours after talking to him that I think that a real friend is not supposed to make me feel worse about my life. I bet you don’t know what it feels like to not get a phone call from anybody for 2 weeks.

Art Matthews Says...

Only you can decide if it's better to let your friend walk all over you or risk losing him by setting boundaries. Don't you hate when a therapist tells you that? But it's true. It's not up to us to tell you how to live your life, only to help you explore what you would like to do, support you while you make that happen, and/or accept that doing nothing is really the best thing.

My first question here is, how do you know you will lose him as a friend if you set boundaries? The old saying goes, "We teach people how to treat us." If you allow someone to trample all over your boundaries and you don't say anything, haven't you in some way taught him that you will put up with his behavior? Who's really the culprit here? Him for doing it, or you for allowing him to? I know you feel cornered. Perhaps if you were to gently but firmly begin to set boundaries, you would see that he will not leave and can actually learn to treat you in a different way. This teaching process will require you, the teacher, to be consciously aware and intentional in the ways in which you communicate and act with him so that you can set a boundary without getting into a conflict which ends the friendship.

I hear a few things going on here which suggest you're in a situation we call "approach-avoidance". That means there is something that you desperately want to do, but can't because of other consequences that might come with doing the thing you want to do. You want to set boundaries with this friend; but you are certain that he will not respect them once you have spelled them out for him, and if you try you believe he will end the friendship. Perhaps another thing that is going on there is that you don't have a lot of experience setting boundaries so you have to get all riled up and set an ultimatum with him of "Do this, or else!" He might very likely decide you are too much trouble to deal with if you resort to emotional ultimatum making whenever you feel threatened. In order to set appropriate boundaries in a respectful way, you will have to work on communicating and behaving in different ways which may feel uncomfortable to do.

So to bring us full circle, I think you need to work with a counselor or therapist to explore what's going on inside you (your beliefs, self-judgment, other-judgment, experiences, etc.) that you allow this to happen to you and practice boundary setting and assertive communication in order to change you future relationships. This friendship may not last for reasons other than whether or not you enforce a boundary. You are likely able to develop other friendships so that this one doesn't become too valuable to lose thus putting so much pressure on you and him. Being able to develop friendships and communicate assertively are very necessary skills in today's society. They will serve you well for the rest of your life.

In the "for what it's worth department", of course I've sat without the phone ringing for more than two weeks. It can be excruciatingly lonely or it can be a Godsend. Depends on your perspective. What do you tell yourself about the fact that the phone doesn't ring? "Nobody loves me! This is terrible! What's so wrong with me that I don't have what everyone else has?" Sound familiar? I bet it does. Those are some of the same thoughts that rang in my head. But you know, not one of those thoughts propelled me into action to make new friends or discover some of the mistakes I was making in meeting and cultivating new friends. It's tough to hear that we might actually have a hand in why we are alone, but taking that stance actually allows us to see opportunity for something new. Those old thoughts just keep us stuck and excuse us from making any future attempts: "Aw, what's the use!"

I believe the rest of your life doesn't need to be so lonely or so filled with resentment. Make your next step and contact a qualified professional. You're worth it and things can change. I honestly believe it because I've lived it.

"The only way out is through."


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Page last updated Apr 15, 2014

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