This post was originally published on 27/09/2020 and updated 03/10/2021.
In a previous post about being truly happy, I shared that at the beginning of lockdown due to Covid-19, I started speaking to a psychologist; this was one of the best decisions I had made in a long time. This experience changed me immensely and I began to look at my life from a very different perspective. The growth process since then has been pretty dramatic – and one of the biggest lessons I learnt as I went through several changes was setting boundaries. In a world obsessed with social media, where we are validated by likes and comments of affirmation by strangers, I felt I needed to be liked by everyone and I realised that I had lost myself trying to be everything for everyone.
No one really teaches you how to make and maintain friends – if you are lucky, you may make a couple of friends for life who have similar values as you and may grow with you in different stages of your life. However, this is not very common these days and I have come to accept that as our lives change and we either move geographically, outgrow friendships and situations, we are constantly losing and making connections. We come from different backgrounds and cultures and making lasting connections can sometimes be challenging but things are even more difficult now with the different ways of communicating where things can be easily misinterpreted. I find some people would rather draw their own conclusions instead of dialoging to understand and seeing things from different perspective. To put it simply, as the world opens up – we have become very inward looking.
As I went through therapy, I realised that the fear of rejection and not being included had made me very agreeable to certain demands and connections that were very one sided. I had become a lot to people who did not give anything to our relationships and that I was always the giver. But relationships are a balance of giving and receiving and the moment I realised this, I decided to set some boundaries and stick to them – but first of all I needed to work on my self esteem as a person and review and set my values. I needed to communicate clearly my needs and listen raptly to the needs of my friends also. But if anyone has worked on themselves and tried to change old habits – you will testify that it is not the easiest to do and there were days when I felt I was losing myself, and that was scary.
People will always take what is available to them and if like myself, you are a giver – then you need to set some boundaries and ensure that you enforce them. When I looked closely at my friendships and even family, my relating to them was mostly one sided and the sad part was, the moment I shifted my focus to myself, I was vilified and some relationships ended. I met up with some friends recently – and as I played back conversations we had when I got home, it seemed there are quite a lot of people out there who agreed with the need to set boundaries as they felt they had been taken advantage of too often.
A younger friend of mine told me how she had befriended a couple of ladies from a social group she was part of. She had opened her home to these friends on several nights for meet-ups and played hostess but never went to their homes unless it was for certain special occassions. She narrated how she was always suggesting and organising bridal and baby showers as well as birthdays and visiting some of these friends when they were not feeling well. She stated that looking back, she was the spare tyre and never had her needs met because she was too afraid to state her needs.
Unfortunately for her, she fell very ill and when she was no longer able to attend any outings with these friends they simply ignored her and moved on. The heartbreaking part for her was that when she tried to voice out that she was unwell, one of her friends told her that her condition was not that serious – that was mean. She thought she had finally found acceptance with these people, but it was all one sided. In her bid to maintain these connections, it looked like she was taken advantage of and lost herself by being accessible to these people. I agreed with her that she was taken advantage of – but she was never the spare tyre, she was infact a very good support for this group and that she should be proud of giving selflessly at a time when she herself did not have much. Having said this, I drew her attention to the fact that we can never pour from an empty cup and when we do things for people, we should be brutally honest with ourselves on why we are doing it and if we really are in the position to carry them out without neglecting our needs.
If you are someone who gets called whenever they need a babysitter but they are never able to help if you need them to pick you a can of soup from the store when you have a cold – then it is time to set some boundaries. If you find yourself constantly playing host to your friends but they up and leave as soon as the night is over without offering to help you clean up, please set some boundaries. When outings are being arranged and you find yourselg going to places you are not comfortable with, then its time to speak up and state truthfully why you are unable to go. And when it comes to money – only give if your needs are all met and you truly want to give. Never buy friendship, whether the payment is in kind or cash!
When my friend finally decided to concentrate on her healing from the condition she had, one of her ‘friends’ contacted her to ask why she was behaving different to how she had always been. When she proceeded to ask her to elaborate what she meant by her behaving different, the communication was immediately shut down and she found herself angry and bitter. While talking to her, she quoted Maya Angelou “when someone shows you who they are believe them.” I however helped change her perception by quoting this African saying “You do not need a lamp at night to recognise a face you know well in daylight.”
You do not need a lamp at night to recognise a face you know well in daylight.African Proverb
The second quote is more to do with a person’s character – did these friends demonstrate any actions that showed that they cared about her as a person or were they simply showing her what she wanted to see at every stage of their friendship? A consistently good friend can have an off season when things may seem a bit out of character for them – but they will never deviate from their true selves – the same can be said of a bad friend. When you feel like you are always on the outside looking in, you sometimes make connections with people without looking closely at their character and it’s very easy to ignore your own needs. Set boundaries – for the sake of your mental and general well being, set some boundaries and review your values as a person. It is ok to lose some friends while you evaluate your friendships at every stage of your life – I assure you that new connections will be made as you grow. You will know who you are and what you want and this will protect you from any abuse. Whiles you review your friendships, take a look at yourself also and take responsibility for your actions that contribute to these toxic situations.
At the end of therapy, I had a very different approach to the friendships in my life and had to make some changes – one of such changes was who I gave my time and attention to. I was now answering calls, texts and emails conciously. I wrote down my values and as I worked on myself, I set some boundaries on who I allowed into my private space and what messages to respond to immediately, which ones to repond to when I had the time, which ones to not respond to at all and most importantly, which phone calls to answer. I felt at peace because these boundaries protected me from being taken advantage of and the pressure of always being liked was lifted off me!
Life is better when we are connected, meeting with my friends always proves this – but not everyone is meant to be in your life in every season. Be conscious in your friendships, communicate what you want and say no when what is being brought to the table is contrary to your values. It is your life and it is your responsibility to protect your peace and well being, so be itentional in what you allow and tolerate. Do not lose yourself being everything to everyone.
If you or anyone you know have been affected by the lack of boundaries in your life or have overcome a similar situation, I would love to hear from you – do get in touch and let’s effect the change we need by sharing our experiences.
To put it simply, as the world opens up – we have become very inward looking.Tweet