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How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Friends

Boundaries are personal limits that help us establish our own identity and protect our peace.

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Boundaries are absolutely necessary to our healing. Take it from someone who went to therapy for a slew of other reasons and walked out with boundary-focused homework assignments for years. Boundaries are our personal limits that help us establish our own identity and protect our peace – a peace that, in turn, makes us better friends ourselves. How many different times have you heard “you can’t pour into someone else’s cup if yours isn’t filled?” When you make decisions that protect your peace, like setting limits around how much time you spend with a friend or what you allow within a friendship, you get a more balanced, enjoyable life in return.

Emotionally healthy people honor their boundaries and the boundaries of those around them. Contrary to how many of us were conditioned, our limits are not “mean” or “rude” – they’re a demonstration of self-love and self worth. Boundaries are also the foundation of healthy friendships. 

In the words of one of our favorite therapists, Minaa B, “You cannot change people, which means you cannot force people to honor your needs. This is why having boundaries with ourselves is important: you have to discern when it’s time to make adjustments to the relationships that you’re in when they are causing more harm than healing.”

How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Friends

You should be able to be authentic and comfortable around your friends. If you have been feeling anything but, as in the examples below, it might be time to reconsider your friendship boundaries. There is such beauty and intimacy from long-term relationships, but the length of the friendship should not invalidate the need to address the friendship dynamics of the present.

Signs you might need to implement a boundary:

  • You feel drained (resentful, annoyed, angry, tired) after spending time with them
  • You’re on edge whenever you’re together 
  • The relationship feels one-sided
  • They share your private issues publicly 
  • They make you responsible for managing their emotions
  • They believe your friends can only hang out together if they are there too 
  • They get upset with you for not sharing certain details of your life
  • They only speak about themselves and do not ask you about yourself 

Once you’ve identified a relationship you would like to set new boundaries with, there are things you can say to help you enforce your new limits without being harsh. Discomfort at first is normal! You’re implementing a new rule for yourself which can take some getting used to, but the more consistent you are with your boundaries, the more comfortable you will feel setting them and the more likely your friends are to learn from them. Celebrate yourself when you hold boundaries and show yourself kindness and grace when you don’t.

In terms of the actual phrasing, be gracious and speak your truth without over-explaining – you don’t owe anyone a reason for having a boundary!

Setting boundaries with friends can sound like:

  • “Hey, I would appreciate it if we could keep conversations about [my mental health or my dating life, etc] between us.”
  • “I can no longer pay for you when we go out but I’d love to spend time with you and split the bill.”
  • “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it this time but I hope you have an amazing time.”
  • “I’m not ready to speak about it yet. I’ll let you know if that changes – thank you for being there.”
  • “I’m not looking for feedback.”
  • “I respect that you disagree with my opinion, but you don’t need to force your own.”

It’s important to recognize that not everybody will be accepting of your boundaries. People with toxic traits may not be emotionally mature enough to respond to your boundaries in a healthy way. After consistent communication, if you continue to be met with pushback or guilt from your friends, you may need to take a step back from that relationship and put yourself first. 

When you are forming new friendships, go into them with open and clear communication about your boundaries from the get-go. For example, when I meet someone for the first time, I make it abundantly clear that I hate texting and make sure to emphasize that my inability to respond is nothing personal and more about my own anxiety. My friends now know that I’m not going to be their texting friend, making it a non-issue upfront.