How to set boundaries with friends that ask too much – Michelle Janssen – lady shaking her finger

How to set boundaries with friends who ask too much

In Community and Relationship, Friends and Community by Michelle JanssenLeave a Comment

How often do you say yes and then relentlessly complain about the task at hand? The remedy to this is to set clear boundaries. Here’s how.

A work colleague turns to you, points at her phone and bemoans the latest activity she’s been convinced to do. We’ve all been there. Overcommitting to a social event, a school fundraiser, or something at work when we know we could say no. Are you always the one to organise the drinks catch-ups? The friend organising the group present? Or just popping into the shops because, oh, you know, it’s easier for you? If you’re always the one getting asked to do everything, it’s possible you need to look at setting boundaries.

Sound awful? Well, there’s a way to do it that is still kind and won’t cost your friendships.

Setting boundaries might seem like an unnatural thing to do. Setting a boundary is basically just clarifying what is OK with you and what is not OK with you.

Consider why you are saying yes when you mean no

In her book Rising Strong, social scientist Dr Brené Brown says, “Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hellbent on being easy, fun, and flexible.”

If you’re spending most of the time complaining about a task rather than doing it, consider why you are doing it. Often it’s because you feel trapped and as though you can’t say no. We convince ourselves that, if we say no, we will appear less nice or worthy as a person. When we say yes when we desperately want to scream “NO!” we are simply communicating that we care more about appearing laid-back than actually being kind. Learning to say no shows we care about ourselves and others, far more than if we say yes without meaning it. Ultimately, as Brené says in Rising Strong, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

How often do you say yes and then relentlessly complain about the task at hand? The remedy to this complaining and resentment is to set a clear boundary.

Ask yourself: “What can I say no to?”

Practise self-love

What does loving yourself have to do with setting boundaries? Kristin Neff says, “Our culture does not emphasise self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.”

The old saying, “You can’t give from an empty cup” applies here. Often we get caught up in thinking we’re selfish if we ask for what we want. Or, if we don’t do what needs to be done, then nothing will ever be achieved. Perhaps in some instances this is true. However, often we are stuck in the illusion that we are powerless to stop our behaviours or the dynamics we participate in. Loving ourselves means we take time to reassess what is and isn’t working in our lives.

Ask yourself: “What can I do for myself today?”

Break the habit

Change is not meant to be easy. Saying no can feel as though you’re coming out of your skin. You’ll probably experience a rush of guilt and immediately want to take back your assertive no. Let the thoughts come and go. Resist the urge to text longwinded explanations and apologies. Understand that it’s okay to feel bad for saying no. But this does not mean you need to give in. It simply means you’re experiencing change and it’s not comfortable. While it may be easier to ‘give in’ and go back on your no, this will not help you break the habit. Stay strong and start small!

Ask yourself: “How can I make room for my feelings of guilt?”

Sharing emotions is not weak

Sometimes we may want or need to explain why we need to say no. This can feel raw, exposing, and as though we are weak. More and more we are encouraged to ask our friends, “Are you okay?” and to have greater awareness of each other’s mental health. For many of us though, we stand on a precipice of a conversation that could make life easier for us. But we’re too afraid to make the leap and have that conversation. Nervous energy rushes through us as we try to predict how judged we will be for revealing our emotions. However, on the other side of sharing how we feel, there is often relief and the ability to move forward. When we don’t take that risk, we end up taking on too much and drowning in to-do lists. Sharing emotions is not a sign of weakness. It’s a way to truly connect and be understood. This may be awkward but it is a step to a happier, more fulfilled life.

Ask yourself: Who can I reach out to today to share something important to me?

Lighten the load

If you’re struggling to set boundaries and find this all a bit heavy to your already weary soul, consider how you can lighten the load and make a game of it. If you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, or you are always running errands for others, make a list of all the things you have to do in one week. Start with one thing you can resist or take off the list. Then reward yourself when you’ve done it. Applying a light-hearted approach may help you to realise, as Eckart Tolle says, “Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.” So have fun with it. Maybe it will be the kickstart you need!

Ask yourself: “How will I reward myself when I say no?”

These tips can be applied over time and will take much practice over months and even years! But it is possible to set a boundary and say no. If you are really struggling, and you are not sure who to reach out to, remember there are great phone and online services such as Beyond Blue.


Rising Strong by Brené Brown –

Brene Brown website –

Self Compassion by Kristin Neff –

Kristin Neff website –

Eckart Tolle quote –

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 or

About the author

Michelle Janssen

Michelle is a writer and speaker who loves comedy and openly talking about mental health. She is proud to support beyondblue as a member of the Ambassador and Speaker bureau, sharing her story to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia. Michelle has read at literary events for Avid Reader, QUT Literary Salon and Wild Readings. Sometimes she appears on Evenings with Kelly Higgins-Devine on ABC Brisbane where they talk about smart people things like #LibSpills. Michelle is currently writing a memoir about a break up and her struggles with an anxiety disorder, which despite what is sounds like is actually very funny.

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