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Introverts, Here’s How To Set Healthy Boundaries With Friends In College

Introversion and extroversion are traits that generally indicate where you get your energy from. If you’re an extrovert, you typically gain energy from social interactions and being surrounded by people. If you’re an introvert, you most likely get your energy from being alone and often find your battery running low after socializing for long periods of time. As it is, navigating how to set healthy boundaries in your friendships can be tricky — and this is especially true if you identify as an introvert.

If you’re an introvert who is struggling to find balance with your extroverted friends, you’re not alone. And although it can be tough to set boundaries at first, there’s nothing wrong with needing and prioritizing alone time. Read on for therapist-approved tips for setting boundaries in your friendships when you’re an introvert.

Give yourself permission to say “no”

“Boundaries are the key to any healthy relationship, and it’s always the right time to start setting them,” says Maggie Rose Malone, LCSW, a therapist and the owner of Rosebud Psychotherapy in Atlanta, Georgia. “It will feel awkward at first, just like practicing anything new,” Malone tells Her Campus. “But trust me — it’s going to save you so much stress and pain in the long run.”

In the past, I’ve had a really hard time saying no to my friends, even when my tank felt nearly empty. Honestly, saying “no” to plans or social gatherings because I just didn’t have enough energy made me feel like a jerk. I found myself lying and creating fake excuses with my friends because I needed and craved alone time, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. Sometimes, I tried to force myself to be energized, social, and outgoing, but that only made me feel even more emotionally exhausted!

If this sounds like you, Malone suggests stopping to ask yourself a few questions to identify where you may need some boundaries. “Take a second and think of activities that you don’t enjoy and people you may dread interacting with,” she says. “Where do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you really want to be saying ‘no?’ Are you sacrificing your self-care to do things that you think you ‘should’ be doing?” Once you’ve reflected on those things, you can start taking action toward setting boundaries.

Have go-to phrases prepared

As challenging as it may be, it’s okay to say “no” to someone just because you need to take care of yourself. Needing time to yourself isn’t selfish. But, I totally understand just how awkward it can feel when you’re setting a boundary with someone close to you. If you’re unsure how to turn down an invitation to hang out because you need to recharge, for example, here are a few phrases to try out:

  • “I’m feeling a little drained today, but thank you for thinking of me.”
  • “I’d love to, but I’m not feeling like my best self today. Can I take a rain check?”
  • I’m due for some me-time, but I appreciate your invitation.”
  • I need to recharge, but I’d love to spend time with you later.”
  • “My energy is running a bit low today. Let’s do something later this week.”

At times, setting boundaries with a loved one for the first time can make you feel guilty, like you’re missing out, or like you’re not doing enough. However, remember that you aren’t doing anything wrong, and it can take practice and time to reframe these thoughts.

Schedule your social time

Malone, who identifies as an introvert herself, says it’s important to be intentional with how you spend your time. “Introverts can become quickly drained from engaging with others,” she tells Her Campus. “This difference means that we need to be very intentional with whom we share ourselves. Essentially, we need to protect and conserve our energy so that we can spend it where it really matters.”

If you want to make sure you’re properly balancing your time and energy, try emotionally exhausted your days. Get together with your friends and set aside a specific time throughout the week to hang out together — and don’t forget to schedule time to spend on your own! If you set a clear schedule, you may find that it prevents having to say “no” too often or causing conflict in your friendships. It’s a great way to stay intentional and show your friends you care about quality time while also taking care of yourself.

Have a backup plan in place

If you identify as an introvert, setting boundaries and a clear schedule can help you conserve your energy. However, chances are you’ll get caught in sticky situations that can be tough to navigate, and you may find yourself drained as a result.

Michael Alcee, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the mental health coordinator at the Manhattan School of Music, tells Her Campus that it can help to have a go-to “escape plan” ready for when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. “Sometimes, it’s really helpful to have some ‘emergency introvert recharge tricks’ that you can use without saying anything,” Dr. Alcee tells Her Campus. “Going for a bathroom break, a breath of fresh air, or even slipping away for a few minutes while friends are connecting can help give you the refreshing time you need to take care of yourself.” Dr. Alcee, who specializes in working with introverts, goes more in-depth into the introvert experience in his TEDxTalk, “Introverts, College, and the Mind.

Have an open, honest conversation with friends

Personally, I’ve always been an introvert. Not only do I love having “me time,” but I need it in order to feel rejuvenated, recharged, and confident. And while I enjoy being around people, I tend to become withdrawn and distant if I’m around others for too long. In the past, my extroverted friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t always want to go out with them, or why I’d occasionally shut down when we were together. In fact, my need for “me time” cost me quite a few friendships, because I had no idea how to communicate what I was feeling.

For those who don’t understand introversion, having boundaries in place can seem super hurtful and confusing for them at first. For example, they might question why you don’t want to hang out with them, or question if they’ve done something wrong. However, it’s important to have an open, honest conversation with your friends — and let them know that it’s not personal.

“It’s really difficult to set boundaries because people easily take introvert needs personally,” Dr. Alcee tells Her Campus. “It can help to educate your extroverted friends that the amount of time you spend has much less to do with them and more to do with you recharging.”

Dr. Alcee says that if your friends are having trouble understanding, it can help to use your phone as a metaphor. “Sometimes it helps to compare [introversion] to a phone with a lot of apps running,” he tells Her Campus. “Your introvert processing drains your battery a lot faster than the typical extrovert, and being alone helps you to get back up and running.”

That said, proactive communication is key. Explain to your extroverted loved ones why you need space, how it benefits you, and that it’s not personal if you set a boundary. Remind them that “I need some alone time” doesn’t mean “I don’t enjoy being around you.” Your alone time is an act of self-care and doesn’t reflect how you feel about and/or view them at all!

“It’s also helpful to remind people that it’s not as much about quantity for you but much more about quality,” Dr. Alcee tells Her Campus. “Your friends can rest assured that you really are there for them and present…ironically, it’s because you can be so present — even if you are more quiet — that you need time on your own to replenish.”

While it may feel a bit awkward to start, having a transparent conversation with your friends and loved ones is a great way to understand and establish what you need from one another.

“You may have to repeat yourself to reinforce the boundary,” Malone tells Her Campus. “It’s okay for it to be uncomfortable. Ultimately, your friends are going to understand if you’re honest with them, and if they don’t, then that’s a whole other issue.”

With little communication, setting healthy boundaries, and remembering to prioritize self-care, you’ll be on your way to coexisting with your extroverted friends stress-free in no time. Try these expert-approved tips, and good luck!

Michael Alcee, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Maggie Rose Malone, LCSW, Rosebud Psychotherapy

Sarah Bradley is pursuing a B.S. in Digital Media & Communications from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. She has completed various marketing and editorial internships with Glitter Magazine, 60 Seconds Magazine, and S&S Studios. In addition, she recently earned her Florida real estate license and is currently practicing with Luxe Real Estate Co. She loves cooking new recipes, drinking iced coffee, journaling, reading romance novels, and binge-watching bad reality television.
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