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Beware the Frenemy: How to Have Healthy Boundaries with People

Updated on July 10, 2016

Being social in our society can be fun, it is great to meet new and quality people. Socializing increases our quality of life, makes us feel included and connects us in meaningful ways. Social connections offer us a way to exchange ideas, express ourselves, validate each other and share in the challenges and fulfillment of everyday life. With out social activity, life would be pretty lonely and isolated and can lead to lesser contentment and even depression. So extending yourself to be social with others can greatly improve mental health and wellness.

Society is full of different types of people from diverse backgrounds, family dynamics, cultural and religious influences. We are also heavily influenced by our parents, family and certainly the media such as television, radio, music, books and the internet. All of these variables affect our interpretation of society, civilization and the world. They help form us into unique individuals where we discern what to accept into our belief system and reality and what to ignore or deny. We do, however, also embrace certain social and cultural norms that guide our behavior with others and this keeps order in our lives and communities. In Canada, we tend to have a more passive, tolerant, diplomatic and polite cultural norm and this certainly has aided in developing a safer and civilized society.

On the flip side, many of us have participated in the office or work situation, at a gathering, party or a club and even within our own families, where cliques or groups of people develop that can be gossipy, undermining, deceptive, manipulative and influential. There are usually instigators of such behaviors, leaders of the pack, and it may be your boss, a co-worker, team mate, sibling, relative or a buddy. Typically, these are nothing more than plays of jealousy and control, often involving approval, popularity and personal gain. It can be associated with predatory behavior and a need for dominance but most of us realize this is often a result of someone's low self-esteem, inferiority complex, insecurities, arrogance and superficial need for attention even if it is negative and harming to others. Although we may understand the sources or influences and even the intentions, it does make it difficult to deal with, maneuver and cope with on a regular basis and it can interrupt our balance, attitudes, trust capability and overall well being as well as our daily lives.

Unfortunately, there are many dysfunctional people in our society that may not be sociopaths but demonstrate some of these traits. When someone interferes with our well being and lives in a negative manner, who act more like a rival or enemy but portray themselves as a friend, the pop culture word for them is the "frenemy". Friend and foe at the same time, the frenemy has become such a common phenomenon in western civilization that it has it's own word. They project the appearance of being a friend and can be charming and engaging to your face, but in turn, undermines or competes with you in your absence. Some make no qualm about it, and are 'in your face' about it being seemingly hostile, disagreeable, contradictory, moody or ambiguous about their intentions and actions. It may leave you confused, hurt, suspicious, uncomfortable and cause you distance to yourself from them, places where they congregate and avoid social situations. It may also impair your ability to trust, imbalance comfort levels and cause disappointment. None of this is healthy social behavior and it's effects, the thoughts and feelings you experience, are certainly real and valid.


The best way to defend oneself from the frenemy, is to recognize the behavior from the start and nip it in the butt. Be observant when encountering a new social dynamic be it a new workplace, group, a family gathering, meeting or even a date. Observe everyone's social behavior at each engagement, and certainly go ahead and be conversational, polite and friendly. The frenemy will arise out of the social situation fairly easily, vying to be the center of attention, garner some sort of superiority, support or agreement, be sarcastic, disagreeable, or cause a controversy, debate or gossip. Sometimes they are just plain 'bitchy' or moody, and make a play for some sort of focus or attention upon themselves with a story or complaint. Sometimes it is portrayed as arrogance or alternatively, a pity play. It is not that difficult to spot them.

They may come across quickly attempting to garner your support or sympathy and confidence, but it is nothing more than mere imitation intimacy. They are seeking to rally support and comrades in their game to validate their own insecure ego through superficial social manipulation and conquest. As an acute observer, you can refuse to play, excuse yourself or politely leave. You need not agree nor engage the negativity. That is not a party you may wish to participate in. It is one thing to have a different opinion and freely express yourself, it is quite another to become involved in dialogue or drama that feels uncomfortable, is harmful or hurtful to yourself or others.

The best defense against the frenemy is to demonstrate immediate and firm interpersonal boundaries. Since you recognize the potential for a negative experience or relationship with the frenemy, you can be in control. It is important to start off every relationship with respectful boundaries because it is difficult to step back and create those boundaries later once your comfort level has been compromised. Instilling boundaries from the start communicates that you will only tolerate respectful, open and dignified communication with others. And walking away or excusing yourself if they persist, demonstrates that sort of improper or intrusive conduct will not be entertained.

Boundaries are limitations you create with other people through the way you communicate and not communicate in a dialogue or social situation. You can politely disagree, say you prefer not to discuss this issue, feel uncomfortable and also not offer any personal or compromising information or comments that fuel the frenemy's angle for agreement and support. If you give no ammunition and lend no emotional response, they have nothing. It is a good stance to remain neutral in both tone, response and body language. You can also diffuse the situation by politely declining to comment, saying you have no direct opinion, or communicating that this is not a healthy conversation you wish to discuss. Diplomacy and diffusion are the best defenses against the frenemy.


The Frenemy can present themselves online, too. They are often the aggressive and pestering trolls you witness complaining, bashing, stalking and generally posting crap on social media. They rarely have anything good to say, complain often and desire you to join their tantrums or pity party. They are not about sharing opinions or expression, they are all about 'me, me, me', look at me, look here is another sleazy selfie of me! They are often victims of their own vanity and inferiority complex and anyone with more than half a brain can see their advertisements from a mile away. You don't need a degree in psychology but I am sure we all feel a spray of bear mace would be a fun and rewarding fantasy to deal with the frenemy. I truly don't recommend it, but it is a good visual coping mechanism to keep in your mind for those times they seem to have gotten your goat. But...alas, I digress.

But thankfully, there is always the block button for online frenemies although you may get the cold shoulder, a nasty private message or the evil eye Monday at work around the coffee pot when they discover you removed them. Oh, well so sad, cry us a river frenemy. If blocking them would cause a ruckus, then removing them from your news feed may be helpful as well. I had one frenemy notice I 'unfriended' them and then persisted to bomb my cell phone till I answered- which I never did. I still haven't. Don't think I ever will- thanks to call display. My tolerance level for the frenemy is pretty much at low to zero tolerance. I used to joke that I drank Coke Zero, because I have zero tolerance for bull s*h*t. Life is much better with less of it, I assure you. :)

So bon voyage dear friend, I set you free of this article and into the real world with a shield of armour in one hand and a bear mace fantasy in the other. Be brave, stand your ground, take no crap, try to be diplomatic, at least diffuse if you can, and survive another day in this dog eat dog civilization. Transcendental meditation and visualization practices are another good way to cope, lower your blood pressure and breathe after a day around the frenemy. I know we can't always bolt when we see a frenemy, but we can always cope. No one wants to be a door mat, don't be, you deserve to be treated well and around the best quality people possible. A truly good friend is also a remedy for a frenemy, it reminds us we can express, vent and share without risk and with trust. The frenemy is an anomaly, not the norm. Treat yourselves well, create healthy boundaries with people and others will treat you better, too.

Just Curious about your Experience...

If you are dealing with a frenemy situation, is your frenemy...?

See results

Frenemy- A Short Comedy, ha, ha! Cheer up!


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I especially appreciate the counsel on boundaries. "Instilling boundaries from the start communicates that you will only tolerate respectful, open and dignified communication with others." Thanks.


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