A few years ago, I found myself in a rather toxic friendship. I valued him as one of my closest friends, but I started to realize that he only communicated or valued our friendship when it was convenient to him. I felt used, unimportant, and consistently hurt. After a year of dealing with the stress and unhappiness, I decided it was finally time to communicate my needs and how I was feeling about the friendship.
Even though I hoped this would improve the friendship, after a while, I realized I needed to cut this friend out of my life completely. One thing I learned from this experience is that I need to create healthy boundaries with the people I care about before things get past the point of no return.
I often categorize myself as a bonafide “people pleaser.” That is, I go out of my way to help others or seek their approval without thinking of myself first. If I’m not careful, these habits can eventually lead to burnout and overall unhappiness, like in the case of my insensitive friend.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, use the steps below to start putting yourself first and implementing these important boundaries with others in your relationships.
Define your own needs and core values
The first step toward creating loving boundaries is reflecting on what’s important to you. If you don’t articulate your own values and needs, it’s difficult to build a stable foundation for relationships with others. For example, when I realized I was spending too much time with one specific person in my life, I had to express that I find value in spending time with my own friends and pursuing my own personal interests. I appreciated that my friend wanted to spend a lot of time with me, but I wasn’t feeling like myself and needed to convey my needs to continue the relationship in a healthier manner.
Spend some time soul searching, meditating, or journaling about your core values. What’s important to you? What do you find necessary in order to live a happy and healthy life? Do you value alone time, respect, and honesty? Write down what you discover and recognize about yourself, and keep these in mind when moving on to the next step.
Reflect on your current relationships
While you most likely have quite a few healthy relationships, there’s also a chance that some people are bringing a level of toxicity to your life. These are the people you’ll need to approach first when creating and implementing important and loving boundaries.
While you’re evaluating your current relationships, pay attention to details such as:
- Does this person take more than they give?
- Do you usually feel drained after spending time with him or her?
- Can you trust this person?
- Are you able to openly communicate?
- Does this person blatantly violate and/or disrespect any of your core values?
Unhealthy relationships can have different levels of toxicity. Some may include multiple red flags, while others may only have one or two. Each time you recognize a negative trait, take note and remember to acknowledge it with them when communicating your new boundaries.
Lovingly communicate your needs to others
Communicating new personal boundaries is often the hardest step, but it’s the most important. After you recognize which relationships need some additional boundaries, take the time to talk to these loved ones about your needs and values. Here’s one way you can start these types of conversations:
“I’ve been doing some reflecting, and I realized that I haven’t been taking care of myself as much as I need to. Since I care about you and our relationship, I want you to know that there are some new boundaries I need to create with the important people in my life.”
In a more specific example, you can continue with, “I’m learning that I need more time for myself, and I would truly appreciate if you would give me that space more often. Sometimes I feel guilty for not hanging out or putting myself first, but it’s time for me to make that change.”
Your true friends and loved ones may need some time to adjust to these new boundaries. If they don’t, then take it as a sign to rethink the relationship, and make a conscious choice to take care of yourself when moving forward, either with or without the toxic relationship in your life. This may be difficult if the other person is a family member, but consciously and lovingly communicating your needs is the most important step in order to live a happier and healthy life.
Understand that it’s okay to say no
Telling someone no can be incredibly difficult. Not only do you risk others’ disappointment, but there’s a chance the other person may grow angry. That said, sometimes it’s necessary to put your personal health, needs, and values first before helping or spending time with someone else.
For example, let’s say you’re running on only a few hours of sleep and have been planning on catching up after finally having some alone time. At the last minute, one of your friends needs you to run an errand for them. You’re exhausted, but feel guilty for telling your friend no. If you say yes, you risk losing even more sleep and possibly getting sick from exhaustion. If you say no, your friend may be a little mad or disappointed. You decide to put your health first, which leads to you feeling more energized, rested, and ready to tackle the rest of your week.
Learning how to say no when necessary can take some time. Remember, those who truly love you will understand if you communicate your needs, instead of holding it against you.