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How to Set Boundaries with Friends

As much as they love us, sometimes friends struggle when we succeed. Sonima's psychologist offers a meditation practice to help you find the words to express your feelings and strengthen your relationship.

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Dear John,

My best friend is competitive with me. Whenever anything good happens to me, she becomes aggressive and defensive. I love her and value our friendship beyond measure, so I let these uncomfortable moments pass without comment. But sometimes her nastiness simply hurts my feelings. How do I gently set boundaries without losing her friendship?

Sincerely,
Boundless

 

Dear Boundless,

Thank you for writing in. Having challenges in friendships is a concern that so many have, and finding a healthy way to address them is a path toward more fulfilling relationships.

I agree with you that your friendship would benefit from healthier boundaries and increased communication. It is a positive and a strength that you feel there is a foundation of love from which these new qualities can grow. Your love shines through in your desire to be gentle in how you approach implementing a new way of interacting in your friendship.

We must also recognize that no matter how hard we try to be delicate, ultimately, we cannot control how others choose to respond to us. There is a risk that your friend may be hurt. Therefore, I recommend that you focus on clarifying for yourself what an authentic approach and language would be in this situation.


Determine What Matters Most to You

One way to connect to authentic language is through quieting down in meditation. The intention of the meditation I will guide you through below is to clarify your values and wants for this specific friendship. I suggest you read through the steps before engaging in the meditation to develop an understanding of the approach, and then come back to the beginning to initiate the practice.

1. Find a safe and comfortable space to practice where you will not be interrupted.

2. Sit comfortably and lie down.

3. Connect to your breath. Focus on belly breathing, concentrating on cultivating long, steady, slow, and deep breaths. You can check on your breathing by putting one hand on your low belly and the other on your heart. Breathe down into the belly hand and feel it rising more than the heart hand. Once you have established that depth, then proceed.

4. Place both of your hands onto your heart and imagine you can breathe into your heart.

5. When you feel settled, ask yourself these question or similar ones that resonate with you more completely: What do I want and need most in this friendship? What matters most to me? How can I best communicate this to my friend?

6. Listen for the answers. They may come in the form of flashes of images in your mind or felt sensations in the body; you may mentally hear or see a word or words; or you may receive your answer through some other channel of awareness.

7. Allow yourself to stay open to receiving all these teachings from within your heart or your inner guide until you feel complete. That may be a short period of time, or it may be longer.

8. End your meditation session with a feeling of gratitude, and use an exhale to release the practice. Spend a few moments journaling about your experience so you do not forget your insights.


Related: Don’t Let Others Push Your Buttons



Turn Your Meditation into a Conversation

The next step will be to convert your journaling toward language that you can gently and assertively communicate to your friend. Here are a few guidelines to assist you in creating your statements.

1. Review your “script” and ensure that your language is precise and descriptive. For instance, rather than saying something like, “I notice you get aggressive toward me when I have a success,” instead try saying something like, “I notice that when I told you about X accomplishment, you did not congratulate me, and you starting talk about Y.”

2. Check to see that you are clearly expressing your emotions and what behaviors of hers those emotions are tied to. It will be more effective to convert her “defensiveness” into specific observable behaviors that are clearly defined. This might include how she may deny or counterattack you when you confront her on her “nastiness”.

3. Use as few words as possible to avoid muddying the waters with unnecessary apologetics or filler words.

4. Take additional quiet time, as in the meditation practice, to visualize the interaction with your friend. Focus on a mental image of your friend and try to hold the image in a space of compassion. Then imagine communicating your script to your friend. As you are doing this, again notice what feedback you get through the different channels of awareness (images, words, physical sensations, etc.).

Spend as much time here as needed, and then when you are done, again journal any revisions you feel are needed. You can repeat this process as often as you like until you feel complete in the process.


Be Confident During Your Talk

When the time comes for the actual conversation, do your best to monitor your body language, tone, and physical posturing. It will be important for the non-verbal and verbal to be congruent. Poise yourself with confidence, firmness, and determination. Also, do not get sidetracked if your friend attempts to distract away from the conversation.

Lastly, if you continue your friendship, work on acknowledging the moments when your friend is kind, congratulatory, and complementary. The more the positive is acknowledged, the more weight it will carry, and eventually it will replace the negative style of interaction.

Thank you for writing in. I am confident that you will find the way toward working with your friend to build a more satisfying friendship. I wish you the best on your journey.

Many blessings,
John

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