A reader I’ll call Deb wrote to ask about how to set more boundaries with Vi, someone she only considers an acquaintance. They know each other from school days so Deb doesn’t want to completely cut her but Vi calls Deb her only friend and makes many demands for her time. She lectures when Deb doesn’t return call. Vi is always in the midst of a crisis and Deb doesn’t want to be her lifeline anymore. She asked how she can put the brakes on Vi’s need for her. It’s become obsessive.
Deb screens her calls and doesn’t answer all of Vi’s emails. She’s gotten her act together and knows that this neediness from Vi drains her time and brings her down. Plus, she doesn’t have the friendship feelings for Vi that Vi has for her. She asked what to do besides dodging Vi. She wants to get her to cool her jets dramatically and find other people to turn to with problems. Deb loves herself enough to let go of people who make her feel negative.
Avoiding someone who you want to set boundaries with often doesn’t work, since desperate people don’t easily get the message.
Not responding to emails and calls creates more frustration in the person who feels he or she needs your attention and is determined to get it. When people are very focused on needing to share feelings, subtle messages go over their heads. It can be easier to cut someone off completely than to limit time you give the person. If it’s over, it’s over, and you can choose to not respond to calls and emails. But in Deb’s case, she has enough compassion for someone she grew up to not completely cut Vi off.
In situations like Deb’s, the best way to set boundaries is to be direct, which is also the most uncomfortable choice. I advise her to make a coffee date with Vi. Be friendly. Don’t complain or criticize. Just gently explain that while she understands that Vi has no other friends, Deb can’t be there constantly for her. For example, say a version of:
I’m sorry you have no other friends but I don’t have the time to always be there for you. I’m not a therapist and while you might not want to hear it, I don’t want to listen to all your drama. Normally I’d end a friendship like this but I respect that I’ve known you for a long time and do want you in my life. But, it can’t be at this intensity. It’s not good for me and I have too many other things I have to do so time is limited. I advise you to get out more where you can meet people. Volunteer, join a group. While you have no other friends, I do, and need my time for them too. And I need time for just me.
If you’re willing to limit the time you expect from me, we can continue to stay in touch and meet up occasionally. But I can no longer be your lifeline or have constant communication. Once in a while is fine. If that doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry but I’ll have to stop completely.
There’s no easy way to tell someone you don’t want the level of friendship they do. It’s hard to set boundaries. But if your friend is not getting the message when you don’t reply to calls or emails, you need to be direct and spell it out. If saying it in person is just too uncomfortable for you, write down how you feel and what you want, and don’t want, and send it by email or in a mailed letter. Sometimes I do prefer writing as I can make sure it says exactly what I need to say.
Whatever communication you use to set a boundary, say it with kindness. Explain that you have no time or energy to fill their needs, not that they’re driving you crazy.
You might end up having to completely end the friendship if the person argues about it and tries to guilt you into being more to them. Be strong. If your message creates more drama, accept that you have to end it completely. It means the person is so focused on his or her own needs that hearing what you say, I mean really listening, won’t happen.
The bottom line is you need to take care of yourself first. Setting boundaries says, “I love me.”
Make the effort and have a talk. Once it’s over, things will fall into place. Either your friend will respect your boundaries you’ll have a better relationship or you’ll have to make the cut. Once it’s settled, enjoy having less drama in your life. No friend is your responsibility. YOU are your responsibility. DoorMats tolerate everyone. Nice people who finish first do so because they limit what makes them unhappy. Self-love grows as you weed your life of people who are negative.
Take the 31 Days of Self-Love challenge and get my book, How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways for free at http://howdoiloveme.com. And you can post your loving acts HERE to reinforce your intention to love yourself. Read my 31 Days of Self-Love Posts HERE.
Please leave comments under my posts so we can stay connected.