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Balancing Understanding and Boundaries With Friends and Family

Living with an autoimmune condition like axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) can be a challenging journey, filled with physical and emotional hurdles. Sometimes, the well-intentioned advice from friends and family members doesn't align with the unique experiences of someone living with this condition. Like the other day when I was catching up with friends via Zoom. (Yes, we still do that.)

After a long day of feeling exhausted and drained, the last thing I wanted to do was cook. So, I did what I usually do when I don't have the energy to cook, I order in. I didn't expect a negative response from one of my friends when I mentioned waiting for my delivery. They proceeded to scold me about what they perceived as an unhealthy option, unaware of the reasons behind my decision.

Does that sound familiar? If so, it's unsurprising that it may be difficult to navigate health advice from loved ones who don't understand what living with an autoimmune condition is like. Even though times like the one I've experienced on Zoom can be frustrating, I've learned a few strategies that have helped me balance understanding while developing healthy boundaries with family and friends.

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My strategies for creating boundaries with loved ones

1. Understand their perspective (I know it's not always easy)

Although the health advice our friends and family members offer can be frustrating, it's important to remember that it often comes from a place of genuine concern and love. For instance, those who we are close to have likely witnessed our pain and discomfort.

As a result, it's understandable that they want to alleviate it however they can. Therefore the advice they provide is often an attempt to show that they care, even if it doesn't come off that way. While it certainly isn't our "job" to educate everybody about our condition, I try to be mindful that people don't know what they don't know. Understanding their perspective can help us see that their concern is genuine, even if it doesn't always feel that way.

2. Open and honest communication

Over time I've learned that it is essential to communicate openly with family and friends when they may be crossing a boundary. For instance, with the friend who criticized my food choices, I reminded her I'm a health coach with experience working with clients with autoimmune conditions. Most importantly, I have an amazing healthcare team that I've been working with who are fully on board with my dietary and lifestyle changes. Being able to have an honest conversation with the entire group enabled them to see things from my perspective.

Therefore, engaging in open and honest dialogue with your friends and family members is truly non-negotiable. It is by doing so, that you're able to acknowledge their concerns while respectfully articulating why those concerns may not be valid.

3. Set boundaries with kindness

As much as it's important to take their concerns seriously, it's vital that we establish healthy boundaries. By this, I mean, we get to be unapologetic about the topic areas that are and are not up for discussion. For instance, I have friends and family members who have very strong opinions about the benefits of different exercise routines.

Even though I appreciate their confidence in my abilities, I know what's right for my body and was is not right for my body. Therefore, it's important to remember that no is a complete sentence. As long as we are making decisions from a well-informed place, our decisions aren't up for negotiation.

I know this might seem easier said than done. As someone who has learned to navigate these unique challenges, I know it's not impossible. Understanding their health advice comes from a place of good intentions is a great place to start. When we do, it becomes easier to navigate this dynamic with kindness and open communication. By sharing our experiences and setting boundaries we can bridge the gap between their well-meaning intentions and our individual needs.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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