Dealing with difficult friends

Do you have a friend or relative who constantly offers 'helpful' criticism and invades your emotional or physical space? Pamela Allardice shows you how to set boundaries.
1. Focus on you
By interfering and interrupting, a boundary-pusher is keeping all the attention trained on them. When it seems your needs are less important than the other person's, you will end up feeling ignored and resentful. For your emotional sanity and spiritual health, you must put the focus back on you.
2. Identify your needs
It's clear what the other person wants from the relationship with you: a confidante, an audience, a helper. But what do you need and want? If you are in the habit of allowing other people to railroad you because you dislike confrontation, hear this: if you stifle your needs, other people will, too. To stay true to yourself and get what you need, finish these three sentences. Where in my life am I feeling pressure from this person? How do they make me feel? What do I no longer want them to do or say to me? Write your answers down.
3. Speak up
You cannot control how a boundary-pusher behaves, but you can control how you react to them. Using your answers to these three questions, get clear about what you value about the other person, what's bothering you and what's at stake — your self-respect, for one thing, but also the future of the relationship. You may end up with something like this: "I value your friendship because of your energy and loyalty. However, it makes me feel uncomfortable when you call me at work and expect me to talk. My job is important to me and taking personal calls isn't appropriate. Can you respect this, and not call me at work, please?" If you're not used to being assertive, rehearse what you want to say in front of a mirror first.
4. Hold your ground
Having said your piece, do not engage in a debate or argument. Boundary-pushers are used to ignoring and overriding other people's needs in favour of their own, and often have no idea of the effects their actions have on others, so their first reaction will probably be one where they try to put you back in your box: they may act offended, or attempt to argue, negate or trivialise your request, or just plain make you feel guilty. Your best defence? Calmly and firmly restate your position, then remove yourself from the discussion.
5. Be prepared to move on
You have decided to change the dynamics of this relationship, and that will have an effect on its future. Usually, a boundary-pusher — like most bullies — will back down and you can then move the relationship to a new, mutually respectful level. However, if the other person isn't willing to take your needs seriously, you need to let them go. Setting boundaries might not mean a happy ending, but it's the best way to look after yourself.

Your say: Do you have pushy people in your life? How do you deal with them? Tell us at openline@bauermedia.com.au

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