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A Girl & Her Guard Dog: Is it bad to overprotect our friends?


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Isaku, the granddaughter of a yakuza boss, just wants a normal life. So, she enrolls in a high school far away in hopes of a fresh start. But her Keiya her bodyguard refuses to leave her out of his sight.

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Keiya took his protection of Isaku to the extreme and even enrolled in her high school to ensure her safety around the clock. Despite his good intentions, it was clear that Isaku felt that her boundaries were overstepped and her freedom was restricted.

We want our friends to win and never get hurt, but that may cause us to hinder their need for exploration and self determination. Restricting or policing them can be suffocating and despite your good intentions and snuff out the friendship.

Anecdotes of overprotective friends are common, however studies regarding this have only recently emerged in formal psychology research. In 2022, Etkin, Bowker and Simms found that overprotection is a key feature in adolescence and young adulthood that “may impact psychosocial adjustment in both helpful and harmful ways”. In a further study in 2023, Etkin and Bowker found that this may be detrimental for both the overprotective person and the one being overprotected. Associated with this are decreases in friendship quality, peer difficulties and negatively internalising problems.

Keeping boundaries is necessary for a healthy relationship. Regardless of whether you’re the overprotective or overprotected, here are some ways you and your friend can keep the friendship healthy:

1. Have a conversation

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Open and honest discussions are key to learning where each other’s boundaries lie and give you both a chance to communicate your concerns and intentions. Because they didn’t have a conversation prior, Isaku blew up at Keiya when he suddenly invaded her school life and crossed her boundaries.

 

Dr Ellen Jacobs, a psychologist in New York who works with young adults says,” when you don’t tell people how upset you are with their behaviour, you can internalise it—you end up taking all these feelings out on yourself”. She warns that the friendship can be jeopardised if the issues keep being avoided.

 

2. Respect each other’s boundaries

 

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Setting a boundary is ultimately about determining how to navigate the friendship such that each person feels safe and comfortable in it. Laurel Healy, a licensed clinical social worker, says it’s important to be specific and clear about what we want. She clarifies that although these discussions are difficult, we give our friends a chance to change behaviour they may not recognize as unwelcome.

To help you enforce these boundaries, you can use phrases like

  • “That is hurtful to me so I want it to stop.”
  • “This is what I need,”
  • “I understand you’re trying to help, but I want to make my own decision.”

If physical boundaries are crossed and you feel coerced into a sexual experience with that person, please talk to a  responsible adult and seek help. AWARE provides clarity about what is sexual harassment here and what you can do.

3. Communicate the care needed

 

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In addition to setting boundaries, letting each other know what is okay and preferred is important too. Isaku didn’t want Keiya to interfere with her school life as he was intimidating potential friends. But she still saw him as a pillar of support and confidante.

 

Sometimes we can be doing our best to care for our friends only in the ways we know how, instead of attending to what they need. By discussing this, we can have a clearer idea and know that the boundaries aren’t to reject our friendship. Rather, they will redirect our efforts to more effective care and strengthen the friendship.

 

Here are some Shadee.Care articles on related topics:

Boundaries

 

Caring Conversations

 

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