How and Why We Set Boundaries With Friends
By Sandy Schroeder
I have friends who go way back, but I think our friendships have survived so well because we have always maintained boundaries. I always made the time to listen, but I usually refrained from giving advice, and they did the same. Sometimes it was very tempting to jump right in with an opinion, but over the years I learned that invites disaster.
When we offer an opinion, we are completely sincere and quite sure it is the right choice, but often we may not know all of the details, or really know what our friend needs or wants to do. We simply do not have the resources, experience or overall view of the situation to to give advice. Also, by offering an opinion, we automatically add one more level of pressure to the situation.
When a crisis hits or a decision is crucial, friends are invaluable. We show up with hugs and reassurances and spend the time to really listen. But then, it is important to step back to give your friend room to come to their own decision.
You may have made decisions of your own based on what your friend advised, and later wished that you had made your own decision. Mistaking a friend for a therapist can be ineffective or even disastrous
To keep friendships solid, WellAndGood.com suggests a few steps to avoid being a therapist with all of the answers. Decisions will come and go, but if you are lucky, and careful, you will go on enjoying your friendship.
What to Do
Here are three things to do when your friend treats you as a therapist and seeks advice.
Make your limits known - A friend may treat you as a therapist and cross that boundary without even thinking about it. It's your job to make the boundaries clear. You can remind them that you care, but for their best interest you really can't be their therapist. When your friend thinks about it, they will appreciate your honesty and stay close without putting you on the spot.
Offer other resources - If you know of therapists or support groups that could help, tell your friend about them. Then step back and let it play out. When you recommend them, you might say, "I really don't have the qualifications that these people do, but it might be worth checking them out." It may or may not work, but it is a much safer choice for your friend and for your future friendship.
Be clear about what you can give - Of course you want to do all you can to help your friend solve their problems, but it is crucial that you tell your friends what your limitations are. As you do, you may help your friend clarify what they really need. Often, when times are troubled, it is tempting to just reach out for support from those around us, which may be well meaning, but not qualified to do the job. I had relatives like that. They were very skilled in their jobs, but when I outlined an issue that I was having they were wise enough to say that was "above their pay grade."
When a friend reaches out to you for help, be there for them and let them know they have your support, but be sure to define the boundaries letting them make their own decisions. Down the road they will be better off and you will still be friends.
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