Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

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radicallyunique
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Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby radicallyunique » Tue Aug 08, 2017 1:16 pm

Hey whoever replies,
I have difficulties being friends with people because I am afraid of self-disclosure as a result of my social anxiety. I am actually making breakthroughs in this area, especially in realizing that I am allowed to choose the kind of friends I want, rather than just befriending people because they want to befriend me. Recently, a friend basically broke up with me because she said I was an emotional trigger to her. I was not really so much bothered by this as I was by the fact that she took so long to tell me this and let me carry on talking to her believing that our friendship had a future. This is actually one of the fundamental things that scare me most about friendship - that people actually have negative opinions of me and they don't tell me this. Based on this interaction, and three failed roommate relationships over the past two years, I have realized that I need a lot of communication in my friendships with other people. However, I am worried about telling people this, because I think it'll make them think I am needy. So how do I let people know that they have to tell me clearly whenever they are upset with me or if something is wrong? And, also does anyone have any idea when I will have this conversation with potential friends? I am also trying out a new roommate in about two weeks and I don't know much about her so I think I need to to tell her about my whole communication needs. Does anyone know how I can broach this subject?

I feel so socially inept!
I am a walking contradiction - Anxious but extroverted. Logical but very emotional.

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Re: Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby Mo » Tue Aug 08, 2017 3:14 pm

I think there are ways you can let people know that you value direct, open communication, and that you have better friendships when it's present. It's not always easy to know exactly when to have conversations like this with friends - it might be a bit too in-depth the first time you hang out with someone - but certainly if you find yourself talking about conflict, communication, making friends, etc. it would be fine to say something about how you really appreciate people being upfront with you about any problems or conflicts they have.

In a roommate situation, it might be a little easier to bring up since it's pretty well-established that communication differences can be a big part of failed roommate relationships and a lot of people start off establishing some sort of "house rules" for cleaning, communication, financial responsibility, etc. When talking with your new roommate I think you can just ask if she wants to compare notes for how you each prefer to deal with these household issues, and see where your approaches overlap.

When talking with this roommate, for example, you could say something like "I appreciate people saying something directly to me if my behavior is upsetting them; I worry about not knowing there's a problem because someone's not ready or willing to talk to me about it. Does that mesh with your communication style?" and from there, see what her response is and how compatible it feels. I do think it's important to keep in mind that plenty of people really struggle to be direct when communicating about conflict or negative feelings of any kind, whether that's due to their own anxiety (or other mental health issues), a history of abuse, or some other factors.

The way your anxiety works is that you need people to be upfront with you, but someone else might be anxious in a way that means they really struggle with being that open about how they're feeling, especially if it's related to a problem or conflict. It doesn't mean either of you are wrong or that your needs are incorrect, but it might mean that you aren't super compatible as roommates or friends. That having been said, plenty of people with incompatible communication styles can make things work out if they talk about their own needs and limitations and come up with some compromises.

If you do come across as needy to someone when you've explained what sort of communication works best for you, or you find that they aren't really willing to be as open as you'd like, that might be a bummer but it can also serve as a helpful data point for you. I think that when you find yourself thinking "if I tell someone this thing about me, they might think I'm needy," it's good to keep in mind that the alternative is not sharing that information with them and having them know you less well as a result. You might not want to be this open with everyone but being open about your needs means that you're more likely to have friends who understand and are open to accommodating them.

You've mentioned having a therapist in previous posts, I wonder if this is something you'd be up for discussing with her? That could be a helpful space to come up with ways to bring this up with various people in your life.

radicallyunique
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Re: Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby radicallyunique » Fri Aug 11, 2017 4:34 pm

Hey, thanks for replying. I really appreciate the sample you said to say to a roommate. I think that's certainly something I could use. I sort of get why people might be unwilling to communicate their issues with me to me. It's just kind of frustrating especially with the way my roommates have handled things. My first roommate never said anything to me and didn't even communicate with me about room decorations, or whenever we had to do something together for the dorm. The second one left after the first semester and kept changing her reasons for leaving. She also said that she was okay with us staying friends but didn't reply 4 separate texts asking to hang out. I keep getting confusing signals from her. Like she seems happy to see me in person but she never wants to arrange to hang out. The third one had issues with me for about a month, then started doing this thing where she'd call her mom and complain about me to her, with me in the room, and never actually talk with me about her concerns. Then soon after I came back from an emergency hospital visit, she went to the head of the dorm to ask to get reassigned.

I don't really have a therapist anymore since my former therapist was an intern at the college I attend. I am trying to start the process of finding a new one so that I can get access to the school's consulting psychiatrist but I'm not really looking to get in depth with a new therapist because I feel like I have a good grasp about my problems and their solutions. If anything, I might need help taking action. I also kind of hate how the counseling center at my school is structured around short-term therapy and I am tired of starting new therapeutic relationships that would end.

My biggest issue with understanding when to have this conversation about communication is that my friendships start kind of slow, and then there would be one event that makes us become friends dramatically. One friend for example, I knew casually for a while and then this random day, we were talking about Mike Pence and then we ended up having a conversation about my sexual orientation. And now, I tend to talk to her a lot about my thoughts and opinions about sexuality that I don't talk to many people about. I just feel like we became closer friends rather suddenly. My friendships pretty much always progress that way because I am generally uncomfortable with self-disclosure until one day, usually when I'm feeling lonely or very anxious, I suddenly feel open and very talkative. It can be hard for me to tell when to talk about communication since there is such a dramatic line between the people I regularly talk to that don't really know much about me and the friends that I'm close to.

I also have a thing about not bringing up stuff up randomly and I can't imagine just telling someone that I know, "I like communication" out of the blue. Hence, my problem.

I certainly think its helpful to realize that I have to tell people things to make friendships work. It's just that I have only recently stopped changing myself to make other people like me.

Thanks anyway
I am a walking contradiction - Anxious but extroverted. Logical but very emotional.

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Re: Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby Sam W » Sat Aug 12, 2017 8:27 am

Hi Radicallyunique,

Given how your last few roommate situations played out, I'm not surprised to hear that you find roommate communication to be fraught. It sounds like a few of your past ones did not excel at healthy communication. Having the conversation Mo suggested may not completely prevent another communication mismatch with a roommate, but at least you will have done what you can to make your needs clear.

If you find that your friendships progress in a certain way, then one thing you could try is waiting until an acquaintance-ship morphs into a friendship and then having a conversation about communication. You can think of it as friendship maintenance: now that a closer relationship is developing, you and your friend are checking in with each other about what you each need in terms of communication. Framing it that way for yourself can make it feel less random.

With the counseling center at your school, have you spoken to anyone there about needing longer term counseling? Even if they can't offer it there, they may be able to refer you to someone in the community who can meet your needs.

radicallyunique
not a newbie
Posts: 21
Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:21 pm
My Awesomeness Quotient: I think a lot about really random stuff
My pronouns: She/her
My sexual identity and orientation: Gay Bisexual Queer
Location: USA

Re: Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby radicallyunique » Wed Sep 13, 2017 10:18 pm

Hi,

Sorry that it has taken me so long to reply. I feel like I've just been pondering your response and waiting till an appropriate time to say something.

I did an extensive conversation with my roommate and told her to be sure to communicate with me if anything bothers her. I check in before I put on lights and stuff. For once, I feel like I have a good roommate relationship. We are not necessarily friends but we are friendly and can communicate. So that's awesome and I'm happy about that.

With other friends, I have sort of settled with telling them to tell me whenever I'm having a conversation that I'm worried about. I feel like I never worry less than appropriate so if it's someone that i have not explicitly told to communicate with me, that's always a good occasion.

I can never quite shake off the feeling that they're not telling me something but I feel reassured that I don't have to be on guard since we are communicating.

The other issue I have is that I still have mutual friends with the ex-friend I mentioned previously, who I have confirmed is actively avoiding me. I don't know where I stand with them and I feel as though there is this constant undercurrent whenever I talk to them in public. I try to tell myself that I don't see them as fundamental friends so it shouldn't matter what's going on behind my back but I can't stop thinking about it. I don't know if asking about it is weird or if I'm supposed to keep pretending like I didn't notice that ex-friend left the student center when I came in, for example.

As for a therapist, I ended up seeing someone I've worked with briefly before at first just so I could get a psychiatrist and now cause I like the conversations. Apparently the verdict is this is the last semester where I can regularly use the Counselling Center and then they'll refer me off-campus. I don't know if I want to see another therapist because while I feel like talking to therapists is helpful, I'm not sure I think it would justify how much I'd have to pay for it - with or without insurance.

The weird thing about my therapist and I is that I have a plan but we end up getting derailed because he asks me clarifying questions. And both because of my anxiety and attention problems (apparently I have those) I end up circling around the point. I feel like I'm a little bit more organized when I write or record what I want to say. I'm okay with the rambling. I just think if I ever get a different therapist, I want two-hour sessions.
I am a walking contradiction - Anxious but extroverted. Logical but very emotional.

Sam W
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Re: Advice on boundaries and communication in friendships

Unread postby Sam W » Thu Sep 14, 2017 7:45 am

Hi radicallyunique,

Thanks for the update! I'm glad to hear things are going well with your roommate and your friends, and that your having at least some luck in silencing the doubtful voices in your head.

With mutual friends of the ex-friend, it seems like you have a few different options. One is to assume that if they had an issue with maintaining contact with you, they'd be minimizing their interactions with you. It may be that they genuinely want to be friends with both of you and are trying to be respectful (or no make you and them feel uncomfortable) by pointing out how ex-friend is acting. If you think you're sensing some genuine weirdness in your interactions with them, I think it's okay to ask if everything is alright (it's pretty normal to ask a friend if things are okay if you're getting a weird vibe from them, regardless of what situation might be causing it).

It sounds like if you decide to keep pursuing therapy, you actually have a good grasp of what needs to happen for those sessions to be helpful for you, which is awesome.


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