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“Keep Off the Grass”: When Boundaries Preserve Us.

Creating boundaries in toxic relationships may end a friendship for life - and that's ok.

Today I had to make the decision to end a friendship with my best friend. It was not taken lightly, but I knew it was needed.

After working with a coach, I started to see the level of toxicity in this friendship, where “no” became the hardest word for me to say, harder even than “please be my friend”.

This problem started for me as a child. With a parent with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) I was taught from a very young age that my needs didn’t matter, and more importantly, that everyone else’s needs come first. Along with tip-toeing on eggshells to help those around me achieve their goals, I lost my sense of self-worth, belonging and ego.

In countless relationships I was trodden on, abused and left high and dry wondering how my needs kept mattering so little, while my abusers, having gained victory, moved onto easier targets.

It took years of self-work, therapy and coaching to get me to a point where I finally realised that my needs were important, and did matter – just as much as the next person’s.

In theory, easy. In practice, difficult.

Last year, I made a huge decision that I would cut ties with those in my life that didn’t respect my boundaries.

In April that year I had a friend scream at me after I told her I was not willing to trade contra on a business deal given it was unlikely I’d use her services. I had just paid $400 to have her attend a business workshop, because she was a single mum and “had no money” and she had once again belittled me and verbally abused me. I removed her from my life.

In June 2019, just weeks after rescuing a friend from a domestic violence situation, I was hurled abuse at by her after I told her I was worried about her public comments being detrimental to her children’s situation in the law courts. She spend two hours lecturing me about how she was changing the world. When I saw that her need to dramatise mattered more to her than her children’s safety, I removed her from my life.

When a friend told me to “divorce” my husband, I cut ties with them. My husband and I have been married ten years and have two children. We have ups and downs like I’d say any marriage, but there will never be anyone in my life who has the right to tell me how to feel about my relationships. Whilst initially I removed her from my life, she has since returned with a healthy understanding of boundaries.

Cutting a best friend though – that’s rough.

In reality, this was not a “smooth sever”, rather a severing of several layers of tendons and sinew. A slow and steady review of behaviour followed by a number of actions to slowly drift away, directly proceeded by a final “cut” to be absolutely and finally free.

Last month, I told this friend that I couldn’t allow her to bring her children to my house to co-work with me, because I didn’t appreciate having to constantly take her toilet-training toddler to the toilet. At my house, while attempting to complete work to deadlines. She told me it was my fault because I was distracted. While sitting in my chair, drinking my coffee, and refusing to acknowledge that her toddler needed to go to the toilet again.

Last week, after another reschedule, I called her out on her lack of organisation and punctuality and told her kindly it was affecting my ability to get my work done. She blamed it on her phone (it was flat) and on me (for being obsessive compulsive). Um, no, I’m just organised and I expect a layer of respect towards my time and friendship.

And so, I saw the pattern. The same pattern I’d seen in every toxic relationship since the first.

She would get angry having to do work for clients who had already paid her to do their job.
She would get angry with her mum for not looking after her kids, although her mum was there a few days a week cleaning her house and looking after them.
She would get angry with her husband for not being there for her, even though every evening he would walk into a bomb site of a house, cook dinner for the family after an 8 hour day at work and would be completely ignored by her, after a day she had spent at home.
She would get angry about her health but refuse to eat well and exercise.
She would get angry about her children’s behavioural issues but refuse to spend time with them.

People that blame others for every problem are quite often the problem themselves.

The thing is, it snuck up on me. She was a “nice, caring friend” at least for a while. As long as we were playing by her rules. As long as she never had to take responsibility for her life. As long as no one told her what was missing.

When she struggled with her household, I helped.
When she struggled with her kids, I babysat.
When she struggled with her marriage, I counselled.
When she struggled with her job, I helped her do it.
When she struggled with her clients, I took them on.
When she struggled with her family, I held her hand.
When she struggled with her health, and was in hospital, I took on her tasks, her clients, her family.

Finally, a coach made me see it. I realised that with her in my life I could never level up. I would always be the same, taken-for-granted, nice, kind, caring soul who would be walked over, ignored and not celebrated for who I am.

And so, I ended it.

I’m not going to blame her fully for this. People take you for granted when you do to much. I won’t ever apologise for being a good friend. But I will apologise for every “non-boundary” I put in place as her needs, like weeds, slowly uprooted and overtook every desirable place in my friendship with her, and turned a beautiful garden into a revolting manifestation of a friendship where she “took” and I “gave”.

I can own the bits that were my fault. I can own the boundaries that I didn’t put into place early enough. People say that if you do too much for others, they take you for granted. I think that’s true. But I also failed to put myself first, because of my upbringing and the way I had been taught my whole life, to put myself second.

When you start setting boundaries, lots of people in your life ain’t gonna like it. She was one. Instead of respecting what I had asked for, she got angry. She tantrumed like a child, she behaved like a teenager.

The thing is, the only people who take issue with healthy boundaries, are the ones that you need to have boundaries with the most

So I will continue to walk away – for the rest of my life – from those who step onto my grass without reading the sign. Be kind to yourself, value your self-worth and help those toxic friendships to “Keep Off the Grass”.

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