By Alexa Bailey, MSW, LMSW

To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. That’s how the saying goes, right? Sometimes, though, being a good friend looks different than what we think. The recipe for a good friendship usually includes trust, shared interest, respect, love, empathy, and other nice things. One of the ingredients we often forget, however, is boundaries. Caring for others and making good connections is a beautiful experience. But when we think about a good friend, we don’t usually think about setting up limits, we think about feeling close and being open. However, the ability to be close, feel connected, and stay healthy requires us to set boundaries.

There are moments in friendships when we give a lot of support and moments when we receive a lot of support. Giving and getting help are both really important things and there are ways to do this so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. One of the ways we connect and get through the tough stuff comes with venting and talking about our problems, and who better to do that with than with friends? It’s helpful to have people to talk with so you can validate your experiences, get new perspectives, and maybe even receive advice. And while we can need this and give this, there may be moments when we just can’t. These are the moments when it’s important to know how to set a boundary to keep yourself okay.

There are things to look for to help you know if a boundary is needed. You can ask some questions to help understand for yourself:

-Am I getting frustrated and annoyed when friends vent to me?

-Does the thought of saying no make me feel guilty?

-Does it feel like all I ever do is listen, and no one listens to me?

We can fall into the trap of being the listener and taking on our friends’ stuff without ever having a chance to talk about what we need. It can feel like being steam rolled anytime you are around this person. Setting a boundary in this moment doesn’t mean shutting someone down, but rather letting them know how you can better support them. For example, if you’ve been having a lot of feelings about where life is at for you, the last thing you want to do is sit and listen to someone else’s problems. This is a perfect opportunity to practice a little bit of vulnerability and set a boundary. When a friend is asking for your time and attention when you don’t have the energy, you might say something like “Thank you for wanting to talk with me, I want to listen but I’m feeling overwhelmed. When is another time we could talk?”, or “I’m sorry, I’m not in a place to listen right now”, or even simply saying “no”. We can always acknowledge with gratitude that someone trusts us, and also redirect them. It gives you permission to meet your needs and models healthy communication for your friends, too.

Boundaries don’t have to be walls. Boundaries are often like bridges. We build a bridge to allow people in, but maybe not everyone. A bridge gives us the option to open and close when we need, and to be selective. A boundary bridge lets us feel connected and close without giving everything away. When you let yourself say no and advocate for your own needs, you also allow yourself to have a fuller connection with a friend, because you are choosing to show up for them and you’re giving your full energy instead of half-heartedly going along. Be your best self and say no when you need to. You deserve it!


Alexa Bailey is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW), who works in private practice providing therapeutic services at Evolve Counseling. She has experience treating several different populations and areas, including trauma, anxiety, depression, relational challenges, and life transitions with both young adults/adolescents and adults. Alexa is a big advocate of self-care and creating whole personal wellness through positive change and healthy habits.