In this column I answer questions submitted anonymously by students in the secondary school. As the secondary-school counsellor, I provide social-emotional support and guidance to LIS students. As such, much of my day is spent in conversation with young people, discussing the topics that occupy their minds and hearts. It’s the best thing about my job.

‘Advice’—or telling someone what you think they should do in a given situation—is not the aim or intention of counselling. This is important to point out! Counselling is about helping someone figure out what’s right for them, what they believe, and how to achieve what they want. What I think or want would only lead someone to what I consider happiness. As much as I love my personal version of happiness (hotels and good books, by the way), I understand that it wouldn’t necessarily suit or satisfy someone else.

Still, I’ve found that reading advice columns gets me thinking about the issues that come up a lot in counselling, and in my own life too. At their best, advice columns spur reflection on thoughts and questions of a social-emotional nature. And those thoughts and questions are where the work of counselling really begins.  

How would I let my friend know that I need some distance because she is too clingy without hurting her feelings?

There is nothing wrong with wanting space. Setting boundaries with people we care about is crucial in maintaining healthy relationships, no matter how daunting the task appears. Ideally, friendships fulfill the emotional needs of their participants—be they for affection, relief, fun, or so on. The friendship needs of two people don’t have to identically align, as long as they’re complementary. And your needs right now don’t complement the needs of your friend.

You’re feeling smothered in this relationship. You need distance, and the space it offers; you need independence, and a sense of freedom within your social bonds. These are all valid. Your current feelings about your friend (frustration, annoyance, etc.) are the result of these unmet needs. So far, so good.

Now for the tough part: communicating all of this to your friend. Approaching it can feel like walking a tightrope between helping yourself and hurting them — an anxiety-producing balancing act, the prospect of which can make you feel even more overwhelmed and stifled in the friendship. That’s the emotional toll of this kindness vs. honesty binary.

Good news though! It’s a false dilemma. You’re just readjusting a boundary, which is a fundamental act of caring for yourself. Self-care isn’t only good for you; it’s also good for your relationship with others. Your friend can probably feel your annoyance, and it probably makes her feel anxious and full of self-doubt—and that’s not a pleasant emotional state either!

So talk to your friend. The most important thing is that you differentiate between your needs and your judgement of your friend’s character. In other words: the issue isn’t that she’s a clingy person, it’s that you need distance in the relationship. This distinction isn’t just wordplay; it’s a meaningful difference. People aren’t clingy—behavior is. This is about you, so don’t make it about her.

Tell her you’re distancing yourself because you need some space. Ignoring that need is making you unhappy. Rejection hurts—but you’re not rejecting her. You’re just taking care of yourself by honoring your needs, and that’s a good thing.

You both deserve emotional care and wellbeing.

That’s as kind as it is true.

What should I do if my parents say they don’t like my best friend?

Of all the players in this scenario (you, the parents, the best friend), you are the one with the most information. You know your parents well—how they think and see the world. Likewise, you know your friend better than your parents do.

Considering this expertise, I have a series of questions for you. Your answers should lead you to the conclusion that’s right for you.

Why don’t your parents like your best friend?

Do you think their judgement is accurate?

On what values are their judgement based?

Do you share those values?

If you do: what is positive about this relationship, and is this significant enough to outweigh undermining these values?

If you don’t: what does this difference in your values and your parents mean to you? How do people find harmony with people that they bothcare deeply for and disagree with? How have you accomplished that before, and would it work again?

Good luck. At the very least, this is good practice for using the relationship skills you’ll need throughout your later life, as the web of relationships, commitments, and feelings grows ever more complex. 

Do you think it’s fine if you don’t know what your religious beliefs are?

It’s completely fine with me. Is it fine with you? That’s what matters—and exploring your feelings around that question is the only way you’ll find an answer to the first.

Secondary Assistant Principal (Students)/Individuals & Societies Teacher

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