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When Your Friends Say No

Written By Leandra Lehmann

  • friendship,
  • healthy boundaries,
  • mental health,
  • self-care,
  • wellness,
  • women supporting women
Fredi Models taking a selfie

Credit: Jason Weiss Photography for Fredi

Recently, I had a flood of friends set boundaries with me.

One close friend said she couldn’t come to my bachelorette party. Another declined my wedding, but offered to take me to dinner. A third said she didn’t have the energy to talk at our scheduled time. A fourth told me she charges a fee to offer resources when I inquired into new hobby.

All these situations made me feel uncomfortable, pull back, and wonder if they truly had my back.

Aware of this reaction, I decided to reflect.

"When friends say no, it's not that they don't care."

My friends putting their needs first did not mean they did not support or care about me. In every situation, the friend made an effort to explain their needs and to acknowledge the friendship’s importance.

As women who are pressured to care for others at the expense of ourselves, we need to get more comfortable when our friends say no to us.

Here’s how you help the women in your life set healthy boundaries:

  1. Deepen self understanding.

    Ask yourself “what are the ways I exploit, push, or ask too much of my friends?” “are my asks realistic for all people?” and “how am I thinking about my own needs versus theirs?”

  2. Be curious and empathetic.

    Try to understand the multiple factors impacting your friends and influencing them and their decisions. 

  3. Don’t take boundary setting personally.

    Avoid feeding into self-serving beliefs that pitch you against them. Situations usually involve multiple factors like money, time, social pressures, and internal and external stressors. You might not be aware of everything going on in their world. 

  4. Be supportive of what your friends and family are needing.

    If you trust they are good friends who respect you, setting the boundary must be tough and an intentional decision for them. Support them, encourage them, and make plans to spend time later when they are feeling more filled up or available. Them not feeling guilt or worry they have hurt your feelings will enable them to get filled up faster. 

  5. Be present.

    Enjoy who is there and don’t dwell on who is not. Celebrate the fact that you only have people at events that can show up both physically and emotionally, and that you have not added guilt or pressure to friends’ decisions to not attend.

  6. Caveat

    If friends’ boundary setting leads to your needs repeatedly being ignored or sacrificed, you should reflect on what boundaries you may need to set for the friendship to be more reciprocal.

It’s important to recognize, honor and value the women in our lives who set boundaries, knowing how difficult this is. My friends saying no to me made me proud and inspired.

How lucky am I that I have such strong women in my life who despite juggling so much, share part of their lives with me? Who communicate their needs respectfully and thoughtfully? Their strength made me wonder how could I get better at knowing my needs and setting my own boundaries.

Leandra Lehmann

Leandra Lehmann is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and Art Therapist who believes creativity, mindfulness, physical health, community connection and self compassion are critical to promoting holistic healing. Her extensive community-based work with families and caregivers, and time as Head of People Ops in a start-up, informs her diverse interests which include trauma, social justice, women’s rights, stress management, self-care, and relationship building. She also draws from her experiences as a Third-Culture Kid from the Philippines and her passion for travel.