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"Affirmative boundaries": What they are and how to set them with your friends

Much of the current conversation around boundaries can make people feel like they have to be firm, serious, and oppositional when setting them with family and friends.

And while "boundary-setting" is serious business, it doesn't always have to be offered in a serious or negative way.

Because friends sometimes receive boundaries as rejection and personalize the guidelines that others erect with them, "affirmative boundaries" offer a safe and uplifting style of boundary setting that might be more readily received.

The idea of affirmative boundaries was created by resident friendship educator Danielle Bayard Jackson, and this boundary style is good for:

  • people-pleasers who feel guilty for saying "no"

  • women who have lots of boundaries and presently them harshly

  • those who aren't sure about how to set boundaries with a friend without feeling confrontational

This is important because if you say "yes" to things you don't want to, you'll become resentful and put yourself in situations that don't make you feel safe, seen or valued. But if you say "no" to harshly", you risk putting a strain on the relationship.

So how do we find the right balance?

What are affirmative boundaries?

Affirmative boundaries are a way of communicating your limitations in the affirmative. While getting a boundary can often feel like hearing "no", affirmative boundaries package that "no" as a "yes".

How do you set an affirmative boundary?

An affirmative boundary has three parts:

  1. Establish common ground. Communicate the aspects of the situation that you and your friend view similarly.

  2. Express the limitation. Tell her the extent of what you're comfortable with.

  3. Offer your form of "yes". While you're not saying "yes" to your friend's specific request, you're still offering a "yes" nonetheless.

Giving affirmative boundaries is telling your friend that you are unable to give in the way she'd like you to, but you are still able to give. This communicates a desire to stay connected, and affirms the core of their request.

Let's look at some examples:

Scenario 1: A friend asks you to join her at a concert, but she's also invited a woman who you really don't like. If you attend, you know you wont' be able to relax, enjoy yourself, and have a good time.

Establish common ground: Ah, I love going to concerts with you, and this show sounds amazing.

Express the limitation: I don't feel confident that I'll be able to totally relax and have a good time considering the history that I share with [mutual friend], so I won't make this one.

Offer your "yes": But I want to hear every detail afterwards. Come to my place after the show and I'll pour you some wine so you can tell me all about it.

Scenario 2: A friend asks you to spend the whole weekend helping her move out of her apartment. But you don't have the time (or physical capacity!) to help.

Establish common ground: I'm so excited for you to move into your new place! You deserve this.

Express the limitation: I'm not going to be able to help with the move next weekend.

Offer your "yes": But I'm calling my friend Paul who can hook you up with a discount to this local moving company that I love. I can call and coordinate everything for you tonight, if you'd like!

When are affirmative boundaries ineffective?

If you have a friend who you've expressed the same boundary to multiple times but she disregards (and disrespects!) them, you'll need to take a more direct approach. A firm and simple "no" gets the job done.

Even though "no" is a complete sentence and the female friends in our lives shouldn't need us to justify our boundaries, this formula can allow us to feel confident that we've made our limitations clear while also reassuring her that "We're good!".

This strategy also be a poor fit for a woman who asks things of you but is not someone you necessarily want to keep as/ turn into a close friend. Setting an affirmative boundary requires a bit of mental energy to craft, as you're working to demonstrate how important it is to you to maintain a connection with the friend making the request. But if an acquaintance who you're less invested in asking you to help her move, go on expensive trips or attend gatherings you don't enjoy, a simple "No, thank you, but have fun!" will do.

If a friend asks you to join her at a concert with a mutual friend who you don't really like, instead of saying as a "y

Resident friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson has created a concept known as "affirmative boundaries" that she first outlined in a popular TikTok video, recently. In this article, we explain what it is and offer the three-part formula to help you get it right.

Affirmative boundaries are personal limits that you express that also affirm the friendship. This looks like responding to a friend's request by giving her an "affirmative" answer, offering your version of yes (examples to follow).

The reason this is an important style of boundary setting is because sometimes people experience our limitations as rejection. It's difficult for them not to personalize your "no", and start wondering about how much you care about them. Affirmative boundaries are one way of remaining connected while establishing healthy boundaries.

Even though "no" is a complete sentence and the female friends in our lives shouldn't need us to justify our boundaries, there is a three-part formula that allows you to feel confident in saying no by offering YOUR form of "yes".

Remember, the purpose of affirmative boundaries is to show friend that we still love them and want to remain connected while also sharing our limitations. If you consistently feel unsafe to express this with a woman in your life, you might need to take some time to evaluate that friendship.

To learn more about affirmative boundaries, watch Danielle Bayard Jackson's TikTok video on the subject or listen to a full episode of the Friend Forward podcast to better understand the concept.

And if you need support setting these kinds of boundaries in your friendships, we highly encourage you to book a private session and we'll help you through it.

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