Although the saying “Till death do us part” is in reference to romantic relationships, in actuality, it is the tie/bond between family members that only ends with death and even with death, since we are born in to our families and we don’t choose that bond.
In a dysfunctional family, anytime we visit them, whether in-person or virtually (on a Facebook page for example) we are confronted with lots of emotional baggage. Because our families know us inside and out, they know also how to trigger us. That is why with our families, boundaries can seem almost impossible to set. It is hard to break the status quo, we are guilt ridden and the family dynamics we have been raised with, literally chain us to repeat old patterns. We don’t want to upset those closest to us because we internally know what the consequences will be for doing that. But we also know that we can’t continue feeling stuck in the types of interactions that make us hate us, them and our life forever. When we hear the word “boundaries” we hear “locked out” of our world, or a “door shut”, which both say “this is terminal” and “you will forever be alone” . But, this is actually not the case; Good boundaries will protect your serenity and will also ensure the health of the relationship longterm. To address boundaries, lets first talk about boundary violations.
Family boundary violations can look or sound like the following:
- Strong, unwelcomed opinions on your love life or career
- Planning your schedule and free time for you
- Unsolicited advice on your parenting style
- Pressure to meet your parents’ emotional needs
- Showing up unexpected or expecting immediate replies to messages
- Hurtful comments on your body, looks, and choices
Examples of Healthy family boundaries:
- Freedom to ask for help when you feel you would like to
- Freedom to make mistakes rather than being told you are in advance
- Freedom to live through your mistakes without feeling shamed or blamed
- Freedom to say “no”, “I can’t”, “I don’t want to”
- Freedom to share your feelings openly
- Freedom to change your mind
- Accepting your privacy: not opening your email, texts, etc.
- Being given time and space to take care of yourself
- Respecting your beliefs, even if they are different
- Freedom to your time and schedule
Why setting boundaries with family can be difficult:
- You love your family and you don’t want to ruin your relationships with them
- In your familial structure, standing up for yourself is seen as rude or disrespectful, and your individual perspective may seem threatening, or “disrespectful”
- You feel awkward or weird about setting boundaries because you’ve never given yourself a voice
- The person who is overstepping your boundaries “needs” your help (drug addiction, mental illness, etc.)
- Relying on someone else for basic needs such as finances, room and board, social circle etc. (Dynamics of power) create a ceiling that makes it hard to speak up for yourself
Many individuals assume that when they set boundaries, their lives will automatically become easier. This is a false notion, and in fact, most things operate on the idea that they first get worst, before they get better. When you first try to set boundaries, you will struggle with anxiety, and it will seem like a terrible idea. You will be guilt ridden, and for a while, it will seem you have made a mistake, especially if the other individual(s) know you well. You may be attacked, minimized, stonewalled, and even ostracized. However, if you were feeling stuck and caged in to begin with, you will need to recognize that the parties involved are choosing to behave the way they do and that you don’t have power over their behavior. It is you that can improve your self confidence through your actions, make your life enjoyable, and your mental health, peaceful. Remember boundaries are for you; not for others. They are they way to teach others what you will and will not tolerate and ultimately, the map or guide for how you would like others to treat you. Every good thing in the world has a cost, and the cost for good relationships is good boundaries.
If you are struggling in a relationship that makes you question your sanity, your self-worth, and your decisions, don’t take chances. Let a neutral party assess the situation and help you recognize what is right from wrong. Reach out anytime.