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5 Ways Having Boundaries With Your Depressed Friend Helps You (and Them!)

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I feel like this is important. Like, really important. So important, that I’m about to give you a list of the reasons that it is so important. Ready? So here it is: I believe setting boundaries in relationships helps everyone involved. Seriously — everyone.

I’m writing this as someone who spent many years of my life in a tough place, leaning on other people for support. However, I’ve been healthy for long enough now that I’m able to really reflect on things that were helpful for me and things that were not so helpful when I was at the depths of my depressive episodes. So for all of you people out there acting as support people to those who are struggling: this is for you. (But really this is for anyone because boundaries are so very important.) Here are a list of reasons why setting boundaries helps everyone.

1. You can’t really help anyone if you don’t help yourself.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a really dark place and reached out to a support person, only to discover halfway through our conversation that they were in no place to be able to support me. Usually I discovered this through an off-handed comment made about how clingy/high maintenance I was being. This isn’t surprising, but those words aren’t helpful for someone already struggling. You may think you can muddle through feelings of burnout, but trust me, we feel it.

If someone is consistently bringing their baggage to you, but you are not taking care of yourself, it will become apparent to them that you are no longer able to support them. The difficult part of this, however, is that when someone is struggling, they may not have the ability to pull away from you if they notice that you are burning out. You must set boundaries and take care of yourself, because burnout can cause a lot of hurt, both for you and the person you are trying to support.

2. The person you are supporting is not a mind-reader. 

I have been in relationships where I never knew if it was going to be a good day or a bad day for my support person. I had to guess at whether or not they were going to be able to handle my problems on a given day. It is not fair for you to expect someone else to read your mind — it is your job to set boundaries.

If you’re having a bad day, it is 100 percent OK to let someone know you need some space to deal with your own stuff. That relieves so much anxiety on the part of someone who consistently goes to you for support. Which leads me to my third point…

3. While you may think that being available 100 percent of the time eases anxiety for the other person, it actually usually increases it.

When I’ve been in relationships with support people who are “always available,” it has created so much anxiety in me about whether or not I should reach out. I didn’t ever want to intrude/interfere with someone’s life.

When I’ve found people willing to not answer texts immediately, or tell me when they can’t talk, it has created a relationship where I feel more comfortable reaching out. Having strong boundaries means that if you’re engaging in conversation with me, it means that you are 100 percent there for it. I don’t have to guess how present you’ll be or how much support you have to give in that moment. And, I know I am not wearing you out.

4. Modeling healthy boundaries for someone can help them become better at having boundaries in other relationships they have.

At this point in my life, I consider myself fairly good at putting up healthy boundaries in relationships. Most of what I’ve learned about boundaries I learned from people putting up boundaries with me when I was bringing all of my baggage/crap/depression to them almost every day.

Healthy boundaries are important for every person in every relationship. Showing someone how to have appropriate boundaries can set them up for greater success as they continue to build relationships in their life.

5. Most importantly: You are worth taking care of.

As much as it sometimes feels like you must sacrifice your health for the good of other people, I can assure you that you are worthy of rest and peace. If something is too much for you, you have every right to put up boundaries and give yourself the space you need.

You are worthy, not because of what you can do for others, but because of who you already are. Don’t let yourself believe that your value is only in what you do. You already have value. Maintain who you are because your value means that you deserve to be taken care of. The person who knows what you need most is you. Don’t forget to cherish yourself.

Bonus tip: It can be hard to set boundaries in relationships when you haven’t had them before, especially in relationships where you are a primary support person. Start small, and work up to bigger conversations you may need to have. For me, my therapist was a huge help in teaching me ways to set boundaries without hurting people’s feelings.

Even though setting boundaries can seem difficult, I promise you that it helps every single person involved in the relationship. When you protect yourself, you protect your ability to effectively support other people, as well as effectively supporting yourself. Love yourself and take care of yourself; I promise that you are worth it.

Unsplash photo via Joshua Sazon

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