I became friends with the mother of my daughter’s friend because our girls do so many activities together. Now I wonder whether this woman and I should be friends at all. She often invites me to do things and then overreacts if I can’t make it. Recently she invited me to go shopping. I said “yes,” but when the day rolled around I was exhausted. I called, said I was tired and needed to cancel. She took it personally and was really hurt. She kept asking if I really liked her. There was no sympathy for how tired I was. Every time I cancel or change plans, I get sucked into her craziness and have to repeatedly remind her: Yes, I do like you. Maybe I cancel often but dealing with her overreaction is too much work. What is the best way to set boundaries with unhealthy people?
The person you need to set boundaries with is yourself. Your friend is frustrated with your ease in canceling on her. If you want to decrease drama, stop saying “yes” when you mean “maybe.” It’s not kind to overextend yourself by committing to more people and experiences than you have taught yourself to manage. When you feel overwhelmed, breathe. Don’t take a slash-and-burn approach to your social calendar. Not immediately.
You might think you are engaged in self-care by canceling. It’s more likely that you are repeating an unhealthy pattern of picking a fight: You cancel. She’s hurt and disappointed. You’re angry that her feelings are center stage. She seeks reassurance. You grudgingly provide it. You’re both unhappy. Some people use a pattern like this to blow off steam with someone safe when they haven’t dealt with their own feelings about the other people and situations in their lives.
Do you schedule time alone every day? Without a daily dose of listening to your own breath, it’s difficult to be self-aware. To grow in self-awareness, slow down and pay attention to your thoughts while accepting that not all are true. If you have 30 minutes at lunch, turn off your phone and go for a walk or sit under a tree. Listen only to the beating of your heart. If you’re an early riser, find a peaceful spot and sit quietly before the day’s activities rush toward you. Or take a journal into your backyard before bedtime and write whatever comes to mind. Teach yourself to be free.
Once you increase inner space, it becomes easier to discern when to say “yes” or “no” or “maybe.” Restoring integrity to your yes is an act of love. Without integrity, your word is unreliable. Be a friend to this woman by becoming sensitive to how your cancellations impact her and keeping more commitments. That’s what friendship is—caring about another person in a meaningful way. So yes, if you’re exhausted from a difficult week at work you certainly have to right to exit plans. A habit of canceling isn’t cool. Try pushing past self-imposed limitations by showing up and being open to fun. Then you won’t need conflict to provide emotional release. Having a blast will release tension and energize your joy.