What if You Don’t Like the Boundaries Your Friend Is Setting?

Published on 7/3/2023

A few months ago, I wrote about setting boundaries in your friendships. Someone reached out to me afterwards, and asked, “But what about respecting the boundaries they set? Shouldn’t that be a part of it too?”

They were right, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t even considered that side of things.

It’s all good and well setting boundaries, like how often you want to see people or your communication needs. But these boundaries need to be accepted by your friends, and you need to accept their boundaries as well. You need to adapt to what they require in the friendship.

The hardest part of setting boundaries is ignoring your need to be a people pleaser. The hardest part of accepting other people’s boundaries is adapting and empathising.

Their boundaries might not match your own. Or, even worse, they might be a complete conflict of what you need.

So what then? How can you ask someone to respect your boundary if you don’t do the same?

Boundaries go both ways

Everyone is talking about how to set boundaries. But what I haven’t seen as much is the reaction to boundaries that are set, the advice on how to handle other people’s boundaries.

Because if you’re setting boundaries with your friends, then they deserve to set them as well. Not as a punishment, but as an equal sharing of emotional space.

I’ll be honest, it can be so difficult when a friend sets a boundary.

Firstly, you might feel offended.

Don’t they know your intentions? Don’t they understand how much this hurts you? Don’t they realise that this conflicts with your needs?

Maybe not, but either way, they have the right to set a boundary.

A friend once turned to me and said that it really bothered them when I made jokes about a certain topic. They felt like the jokes came from something more, and it embarrassed them in front of our friends. My instinct was to feel hurt. They knew that I wasn’t trying to be rude, they should know what I’m like and realise it was just a joke.

But thankfully, I managed to hold that emotional reaction in and sit with it for a moment. My friend was setting a boundary with me. They were saying no jokes about that topic and to consider their feelings. I had a chance to argue with them, or a chance to respect their boundary.

So I went for the latter. I explained that I hadn’t seen the joke in the same way, but once they explained how it came across, I could understand why they felt this way. I assured them that the last thing I want was to hurt their feelings, and that I was glad they’d let me know so I could avoid doing this. Then I promised to no longer joke about it, and I’ve managed not to do that. Because a silly joke isn’t worth hurting someone I care about.

I’ve also gone for the former and screwed up a chance to handle someone’s boundary.

It doesn’t come easily. Reacting to boundaries isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do. It’s a muscle that we need to build. It’s a skill to be developed in each friendship. But it’s vital to learn this sooner rather than later.

What should you do if your friend sets a boundary?

To help us with this, I spoke to Alison Blackler, a Mind Coach who runs 2minds, about her thoughts on boundaries within friendships. Here’s what she had to say about it:

“Another important aspect of boundary setting is knowing when and if you have the emotional capacity to offer help to a friend.  Sometimes we need to protect our own time, space and energy for our own mental wellbeing. Sometimes you need to assess for yourself before you jump to help another. If you are drained, tired or exhausted or going through something yourself, the skill is to know if it is right and safe to be there for someone else.

As humans, saying no can be difficult as we fear rejection or not being liked if we do. Creating safe boundaries in friendships will minimise the risk of further burnout when you are trying to give when you don’t have it to give.”

Your friend isn’t setting boundaries against you, they’re doing it with you.

They are telling you what they need, so let’s fight the ego and actually listen. They aren’t trying to ruin your friendship or hurt your feelings. They want to strengthen that friendship and save their own feelings in the meantime.

Try to see boundaries as a collaborative effort. This is something you’re creating together. Your friend specifies the need, and together you create the solution.

If they feel like they’re overwhelmed and can’t meet up often, they’re telling you this to explain that it isn’t about you. They’re sharing how they feel to ensure that you know it’s about them, not you. They’re doing this for you as much as themselves, to invest in the future of this friendship.

So listen to the boundary, ask questions if you need, and work out how to move forward together.

In this example, perhaps you’ll see what does work for them in terms of meeting up. Maybe combining it with errands. Or doing it alcohol-free or earlier in the day to ensure it minimises the impact on their schedule. Or maybe you don’t meet up for a while, and you reassure them that you understand and that they should reach out when they’re ready.

There is no set solution, the key is to create the boundary together based on the need they’ve expressed.

What if their boundaries completely contrast with your own?

Even though we share a lot of similarities with our friends, we’re also wonderfully different. So what if we need different things? What if our issues conflict?

For example, let’s say that I need my friends to check in with me because I get lonely working as a freelancer and doubt their affection for me. But what if my friend needs the freedom and flexibility of not being tied to their phone, and being able to reply in a few working days if it suits them? How can we find a compromise that we’re both happy with?

I gave Alison this specific example to see what she thought, and she had some great advice.

“For the friend that needs constant messaging, they would need to look at their expectations and check that they were being reasonable. This situation can be very common in intimate relationships too.  People can often be too focused and reliant on getting external support to feel better.  Actually, learning how to self-soothe would be a positive step forward. That way, the reliance of needing your friend, when they might need space, is lessened.

I actually think that we need to all have more time and space alone to work things out ourselves.  For the person needing space, this is a good thing as long as they are not avoiding and isolating themselves. Sometimes a friend can pull us out of a negative situation, and that is a good move.”

Tips for handling boundaries set by friends:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask about the boundary. Understanding why they need this, or the thoughts leading to it, can help you to respect their boundary and work towards their needs.

2. Remove emotions from the equation. It’s easy to feel offended by a boundary, but you’ve got to approach the situation calmly and check your ego at the door. Consider taking an hour or going for a walk before you respond.

3. Remember that your friend is setting this boundary to improve your friendship, not to drive you away. They are doing this to keep you in their life. Don’t take it as an insult, but rather a compliment that they trust you enough to communicate this.

4. If a boundary does not work for you, then highlight this. It’s better to debate it now then agree and struggle later. But make sure you’re not coming from a place of ego and instead sharing your needs. Focus on both parties getting to share their experience in a non-confrontational manner without accusations - easier said than done!

5. Don’t run from discomfort. Someone’s boundary might feel foreign to you because you’ve never handled things this way before. This doesn’t mean that you ‘can’t’ do things that way, but that you haven’t before. So give it a try and tell them that it’s new territory.

On that last point, I once had a similar situation with one of my closest friends. She is someone more comfortable with confrontation, whereas that used to be my worst nightmare. She expressed to me early in our friendship that she needed me to share when I was upset with her and when I didn’t agree. It frustrated her to try and unravel my feelings.

At first, I resisted this as it went against everything in my nature. I’m more of a ‘hide your emotions so people don’t leave you’ kind of girl. But I realised that by promising to both express how we feel, I would no longer need to walk on eggshells and constantly wonder if she was mad at me. I would have the peace of mind of knowing that if she was, she’d tell me.

So I told her that I wanted to work on this, but I needed her to be open to whatever was bothering me. I needed her to understand that even if it was trivial or ‘wrong’ to her, it mattered to me. Sharing how we felt needed to be met with a calm discussion and no dismissive tones.

She agreed, and it took a few tries and silly arguments, but we’ve reached a place where we can express boundaries with ease.

Boundaries are a sign of safety

One thing that Alison said to me really stood out, “A good friendship should be safe enough to be able to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ when you are feeling overwhelmed.”

I think that’s what it all really comes down to for me. You should feel safe enough to express your feelings. You should feel safe enough to be heard in those feelings.

And that goes both ways. It means that if something has bothered me, I should be able to tell you and not feel like you’re unwilling to listen. But it also means that I need to offer the same back. That’s the harder part of boundaries, accepting when they’re put up in your own space.

If you don’t feel safe expressing what you need, then something has got to change in the friendship. Additionally, you need to give them the same sense of safety.

When someone tries to set a boundary with you, take this as an opportunity to show them that you’re open to their needs. Ensure you communicate that you’re glad they shared this, even if it’s perhaps a boundary you struggle with. If you don’t react well, this might be the last time they try to set a boundary with you. And a friendship without boundaries is like a vase of flowers without water, it’ll look perfect for a while and then wilt out of nowhere.

Now it’s time to look at setting boundaries in the workplace!



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?

For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:


I'd love to hear from you!

Ⓒ 2024 - Symptoms of Living