There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in friendships that feel one-sided, where it seems that we are giving more than we are receiving in the relationship. While all of us believe in giving selflessly of our time, emotions and advice, there may come a point when we need to establish healthy boundaries with a friend who appears to be emotionally dependent on us, using the bond we share as a means of validating her identity and self-worth.
So how do we handle a situation like this with love, clarity and grace?
Before jumping to any conclusions about a situation or season your friend might be in, take the time to identify signs that may indicate that a friend is depending on you too much. Does she want to spend large chunks of time together every day? Does she express frustration or jealousy when you have other plans with different friends? Does she seem emotional when you aren’t able to discuss a problem or an issue with her?
While these answers alone don’t necessarily mean that your friend is counting on you more than she should, they are indicative that something difficult may be going on her life. Maybe she’s struggling at work or in her relationship; perhaps she’s having a family dispute or trouble with a roommate. It’s possible that your friend isn’t able to communicate clearly and instead of being forthcoming with her problems, she may prefer to work things out on her own. This mindset can have the unintended effect of social dependency; your friend will pack her schedule to the brim and cling on to loved ones in an effort to distract herself from the problems she’s facing.
If you feel that your friend is indeed depending on you too much and she isn’t making strides towards resolving her personal issues on her own, it might be time to have a direct conversation about the situation. Approach your loved one in a time and place that is comfortable for her; don’t create an environment that feels aggressive or hostile. Speak gently and kindly, but directly. Make your point clear and concise, and don’t expound upon examples of her clinginess.The bottom line is that your friend is likely struggling with something and this difficult season of her life is resulting in an unhealthy dependence on you, perhaps as a way to affirm her identity and validate her self-worth. Don’t beat around the proverbial bush in an attempt to address the issue indirectly. Simply treat your friend with love and confront her with kindness to determine if your frank conversation can result in healing, giving your friend the power and confidence to move forward — on her own.
Set Up Healthy Boundaries
While being supportive of your friend in need, make sure to set up healthy boundaries to protect your time — and your heart. It can be emotionally draining to give — and give and give — of yourself to someone who needs to lean on you and you can find yourself resenting your loved one if you don’t carve out time for you. Strive to protect your alone time by putting your phone on the Do Not Disturb mode after a certain hour or make it known that you schedule solo appointments, exercise classes or therapeutic activities to help keep yourself energized and rejuvenated. Prioritizing alone time does not make you a bad friend; in fact, it likely makes you a better friend in the long run, as you end up feeling refreshed and ready to help friends tackle problems or obstacles as they arise.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
If you notice that your friend’s clinginess causes her to act out emotionally or even violently, you may need to seek help from a professional. If you no longer feel safe with your friend or if you think she is a danger to herself, identify professional means of support and consider staging an intervention with friends, family members and counselors. Your friend’s safety and mental health are more important than the repercussions you might face from initiating an intervention.
Have you been in a similar situation with a friend? How did you handle it?