Boundaries and Health Connections

By Alex Harrison, LCSW

Importance of Boundaries in Relationships

Social connections have multiple benefits in life, especially during hard times or times of stress. According to Mental Health America, 71% of people surveyed turned to friends or family in times of stress. Social connections can improve overall happiness, and receiving emotional support may even help individuals regulate their emotions and improve their mental well-being (Affective Science). Even though it’s human nature to rely on friends and family during times of stress, and even beneficial, setting boundaries is equally important in healthy relationships and mental health.

While you may want your friends to be there for you 100% of the time, and you for them, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the capacity to always hold space for another individual, yourself included. Setting boundaries is a form of self-care that can benefit your own mental health and relationships in the long run, so it is essential to set them and honor when others set them as well.

Hear From One of Our National Recovery Advocates on the Importance of Boundaries for Yourself

“One of the harder lessons for me to learn about boundaries in my recovery journey was in my friendships. Especially when it comes to emotions and situations. I grew up in a very chaotic and abusive environment. As a result, I became an over-sharer of information. I treated my friendships like therapy and talked about my trauma openly, burdening my friends with painful emotions and experiences as a way to unload what I was feeling. I have learned that it is important to ask for consent when needing to open up about my heavier emotions, thoughts, and past experiences. I have learned to simply say, ‘Hey, I am going through something kind of heavy and am wondering if you have the capacity to make space for me.’ I have also learned that not everyone is in a place to understand or make room for my trauma, and that is okay. Doing this has brought much more authenticity and vulnerability to my relationships.” Eric Dorsa, they/them

How to Navigate Boundaries

If you find yourself navigating a friendship with a new set of boundaries and you’re trying to determine if you can or should open up to the other person at a certain point, here are a few things you can say to determine if they are emotionally available for you.

  1. Hey, I’ve been struggling with x lately. Do you feel like you’re in a place to offer support?
  2. I’d love to share my experience with you but want to honor your own mental health. Let me know if you feel like this is a good time for me to share.
  3. I want to be cognizant of the boundary we just set, so I want to ask before sharing my experience. Is this a good time to share?

With clear and honest boundaries, this kind of communication allows the other person to say yes, they are in a good place to offer support or no, they do not have the capacity to offer support at the moment. These kinds of boundaries will benefit both parties in the relationship by allowing space for self-care and honoring individual needs while also sharing intentionally.

Intentional Sharing in Relationships

Sharing intentionally can bring about a strong feeling of emotional interconnectedness. It can help deepen a relationship while also serving as a helpful boundary in the relationship. You may have some friends who are fixers and others who are better listeners, and you do not need to share the same parts of yourself with both types of friends, according to neuroscientist and clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C.

Sometimes we simply need someone to listen and hold space for our emotions, so you can always communicate that need before opening up. It is also a good question to ask a friend if you’re holding space for them, by saying, “Would you like me to offer advice or just be here to listen?” That is a good way to check in with friends to see where they are mentally and respect any boundaries that may be set.

Should I Check in With Friends?

If you’ve checked in with yourself and have the capacity to hold space for and support others, checking in with your friends is a great way to offer support and show that you are there for them. While support from friends does not take the place of therapy, it can help with emotion regulation and generally contribute to mental health (Affective Science, 2021). There are a variety of reasons to check in with a friend, including simply thinking of them or remembering that they recently went through a life change. Here are a few good reasons to check in with a friend.

  1. You haven’t heard from them in a while.
  2. You were thinking of them and want to catch up.
  3. They recently went through a life-changing event, such as a break-up, a move, or a new job.
  4. You thought they might be lonely.

Even sending a quick text is a good way to check in with a friend. If you’re feeling nervous or don’t know what to say, here are a few prompts to get you started.

  1. Wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you!
  2. Hi, I saw this [meme, photo, quote] and thought of you. How have you been?
  3. I know there have been a lot of new things going on and I wanted to check in. I’d love to hear about the changes and I’m here if you want to chat.

These messages let your friend know you’re thinking about them and that you are available for support if they need you. If you know a friend is struggling, you may worry about saying the wrong thing. So just sending an “I’m thinking of you” message or a meme that reminded you of them is a good way to let your friend know you are a safe person to talk to when they’re ready.

Written by

Alex Harrison, LCSW

A clinician at heart, Alex believes that recovery happens wherever there is authentic community. As a therapist at ERC's adult treatment center in Denver, she specialized in direct care to patients…