Friendship, boundaries and social anxiety
One of the phrases I seem to say most often to my children and husband is “we know that friends can be so disappointing”. As a family, we have very high expectations of our friends and, every time they do or don’t do something that we would like them to, we get upset and vow to never speak to them again and cross them off our (fictitious) Christmas card list! But of course, we don’t.
Mainly because they eventually do what we think is the right thing, we give in and forgive them, or we realise that we were being harsh and had jumped to the wrong conclusion!
Why is this?
Probably because they are people we have chosen to be friends with and despite the fact that they occasionally read our messages and don’t reply, never contact us first, always turn up late to an arrangement, don’t invite us to everything they do (the list goes on), there is a reason we like them and want to continue our friendship.
So, what is the solution?
- Should we just accept that people are different and give in and do it their way?
- Or should we try and understand why they behave in the way that they do and adjust our expectations to align with theirs?
- Or should we try and educate them in how we would like them to behave so that we can continue to be friends?
The first thing that we need to realise is that everyone has different boundaries in their lives, in what they do, in the way that they choose to behave, how they wish to communicate with their friends and what they feel is acceptable in a friendship.
For example, you may think that because your friend never comes to your parties, it is because they think you are lame, and they would rather do something else. Or that they don’t value you. But it could be simply that they hate large social situations like parties and would much rather see you on a one-to-one basis or in a small group.
Or you may think that your friend opens your messages and doesn’t reply because they can’t be bothered or that you are not important enough to them. But it could be that they simply have too much going on in that moment to reply to you and will come to it later when they are ready.
Or even more simply, they got distracted and plain forgot to reply. It wasn’t a conscious decision to ignore you, other things got in the way. There is no harm in sending a reminder message as if it is just that they forgot, the reminder will elicit some action - like an apology and reply!
Personally, I am super organised (to a fault) and try to reply to every message immediately and, even if I am busy, I will send a “holding” message to say that I’ll reply later! This is how I behave so it is what I expect from others and I am very guilty of being annoyed by non or late repliers. But thankfully as soon as I get the reply, I am appeased and forget how irritated I was.
I don’t hold a grudge.
But instead of going through all these scenarios, it would be easier to vocalise the issue with your friend so you can understand each other and jump to the wrong conclusion each time something doesn’t go the way we expect.
The best solution is clearly to talk and discuss what our boundaries are. Then we can ask the right questions of our friends and react accordingly when we are faced with a situation we are uncomfortable with or that annoys us.
Clearly, this is easier said than done. But we should have it as an aim in our mind and try to address issues as they come up, if we can.
Social life anxiety
One of the other ways that we can feel upset by friends is when we are sure that they prefer their other friends to us. From what we see on social media, they are out and about having loads of fun with other friends, doing stuff without us and we feel hurt that we were excluded. Our self-esteem is at an all-time low.
“Everyone else is out having fun and I’m at home with a takeaway and my laptop for company…”
How many times have we said or heard that phrase?
Why were we not invited? Why are we not out there? Why don’t they like me? Why don’t they think of me when planning their night out, their weekend away? Why do they leave me out? Am I just not fun?
There could be a million reasons and most likely none that you are thinking it is.
- Maybe your friend didn’t arrange the night out? It wasn’t up to them to invite you.
- Maybe they prefer seeing you separately as you have more fun when it is just you together or in a small group.
- Maybe they truly thought you wouldn’t enjoy the event?
- Or maybe they just want to enjoy themselves with other friends on this occasion?
Whatever the reason, don’t let it fester.
If it really upsets you, talk to your friend about it. If you really can’t talk about it, then try and work out why it happens and if it truly is a malicious act then ask yourself whether they are a true friend to you.
We all have friends who provide something different for you and appeal to and bring out different sides of your personality.
- The friend who challenges you and you have fun with as they push you to do things you would normally avoid.
- The friend you have deep and meaningful conversations with.
- The friend who you’ve known all your life and you can talk about family and childhood.
- The friend who motivates you in your career.
- The friend you confide in when you’re sad.
- The friend you party with.
- The friend who builds you up and gives you confidence.
- The friend you love walking with.
- The friend you go to the gym with.
And, if you happen to have a friend who fulfils all these roles - keep hold of them - you are very lucky!
The moral is that everyone is different, every friendship is different, we must learn to compromise when something isn’t perfect, but we need to talk and communicate how we are feeling.
Life coaching can help vocalise these feelings and help you explore your thoughts but your first step should always be to talk to your friend to discover what you both need out of the relationship.