So you’re in counseling. Whether that’s on your own or as a couple and some of your friends know about it. That’s great, right? We always want to have the support of others. But what about when your friends have strong opinions about your life and the changes you are trying to make?
That’s where things can get tricky. When our friends have been along for the ride on the drama that’s taken place in our lives, they can often have strong emotional reactions to what’s going on.
Even when things are starting to improve, our friends may unknowingly still be hurting for us and will unintentionally hold us back from moving forward.
Why would they do that?
Well our friends are not in therapy with us so they will always be be a bit behind where we are in the progress forward, until we inform them of our new thoughts and feelings on the matter.
That’s because they aren’t spending the time processing the emotions, learning new ways to handle things, and then making those changes. So while your friends might mean well, what sometimes ends up happening is they pull you back from some of the progress you made in therapy.
This seems especially true for couples counseling.
I once had a couple who would make huge improvements in sessions. Then every few weeks, one of them would be second-guessing the progress and seem confused about where they were heading. We eventually realized this happened after she spend time with a certain friend. This friend would remind her how she used feel when she would talk about the progress they were making as couple. She’d say things like “well that’s good but I remember how you used to cry all the time. I just hope he doesn’t do that to you again. Can people really change?” She was obviously having her own feelings and projecting them on to her friend.
How do you handle this when this happens to you?
Boundaries. Sweet, beautiful boundaries.
But first, let’s give you some ways to help identify you might be in this situation.
1. When you’re with your friend, do you start to feel bad again about a situation that you had started to feel better about?
2. Do you find yourself defending your new position to your friend?
3. Do you get exhausted from spending time with your friend because you have to walk them through processing their emotions about your situation?
4. Are you embarrassed or feeling guilty when talking about your situation with your friend?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, they can all be signed that you need to put some boundaries up with your friend to protect your therapy progress.
So, how do you do that?
When your friend brings up your situation that you’re working on, give them a general statement such as “things are improving and therapy is helping. I’m feeling better.” You could even add in that there are still things to work on but you’re happy things are heading in the right direction.
If they continue to ask, give them another general answer such as “I’m working through it all right now, can I tell you about it another time?” It will be hard to say no when someone gives you an answer like that.
If your friend continues to push you, you can be straightforward with them in a kind way by saying something like “you know, I’m spending so much time and energy on this right now, I don’t really feel like talking about it. But I appreciate you asking.” Then change the subject.
If your friend continues to pry beyond that, I hate to say it but you should consider whether this person really has your best interests in mind. Also, excuse yourself to go use the bathroom or leave. Sometimes giving it a little space is just the right amount of time you need to help enforce the boundary.
Boundaries with other about the work we’re doing in therapy can be really helpful to maintaining the progress you are making. You are already spending a lot of time and energy to do this work and if someone is not giving you the right support, it’s important to put up the boundaries.
Corrin Voeller is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She specializes in transforming relationships.