Friendship groups can be tricky to navigate but, as life coach and author Michelle Elman shares, boundaries can be powerful tools to ensure quality connections
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
Here are four of my essential tips to ditch the drama that can occur with friends or colleagues.
Talk it out
Stop talking about the person and start talking to the person. The only one who can solve your issue is the person who caused the issue. When there’s a problem, it can be tempting to get people to take sides and, essentially, create teams within your friendship group – but this is not helpful.
Stop involving yourself in other people’s business
An important boundary to learn is how to say ‘That is none of my business’. Yes, you might be curious, but standing outside someone’s door to find out details about their secret relationship is an invasion of privacy. A friend is allowed to have privacy around something they are not ready to share, so respect that by letting them tell you whatever it might be in their own time.
Similarly, if two friends are in an argument it’s tempting to want to mediate between the two – but doing so leads to what is known as ‘triangulation’ and creates a more complicated relationship dynamic. Let your friends resolve their own differences and, by doing so, your relationships will be simpler, and neither party will feel like you are taking sides.
Stop bonding over hate
There is a saying that ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend’ – and research actually supports this. A 2011 study by Weaver and Bosson demonstrated this by showing that you build closeness with a stranger faster by sharing negative attitudes about a third party, than if you were to share positive attitudes. This is how toxic dynamics can form within a friendship group because, if talking bad about a mutual friend means you can bond faster, it can be a tempting tactic to use to create closeness.
While the research may show it is effective, you need to be wary of its consequences. If a person is willing to speak about another friend behind their back in order to get close to you, they will also be willing to get close to someone else by throwing you under the bus. It may be faster to make friends through mutual hatred, but it is not a way to build a quality friendship.
How to know when your boundaries are being crossed
Feeling anger or resentment.
These emotions are your body’s way of telling you that a boundary has been crossed. When your self-esteem is low, it’s easy to question whether your anger or resentment is valid but, instead, use these emotions as an alert system to notice when a boundary has been crossed, and needs to be reinforced.
Replaying a conversation in your head.
Have you ever wished you had said something that you didn’t say in the moment? Boundaries do not have a time limit, so you can bring up an old conversation by simply saying ‘Hey! Something you said yesterday upset me, and I really want to talk about it.’
Interactions leave you feeling bad about yourself.
Start to notice how the people in your life make you feel. We don’t always process passive aggressive comments or snide remarks in the moment, but you may find later that day that your mind is filled with more self-doubt, or your inner critic is louder when you are around a certain person. Even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why, trust yourself, and believe how you feel is legitimate.