One of the most poignant things that my therapist has ever said to me was:
“And that’s why it’s called setting healthy boundaries.”
At the time, I was grieving. But no one had died. Instead, I was coming to terms with a foundational shift in my relationships with family members. People I had known since I was a baby, who helped to shape my life, were suddenly strangers to me. The reasons for that shift – or any change we may face – don’t matter now. What matters is that I found my way through the grief, and process, that is boundary setting, and came out happier on the other side.
So if you’re struggling with family relationships, hopefully, my experience with setting healthy boundaries with family can help shed some light on a daunting and frightening decision-making process, that ultimately can help you make a healthy decision for your life as well.
Let’s Talk About What A Family Is and Is Not
A family, as defined in many dictionaries, is a group of relations, descendants, or ancestors, often bound by blood, marriage, cohabitation, or adoption. But if you dig just a little deeper, you’ll find that sociology actually defines family as a socially recognized group that forms an emotional connection among its members. A family then is NOT a one-size-fits-all framework.
Traditional family structures have changed in recent generations, but that in no way means that families are irrelevant. We still need a support system for financial stability, physical and mental health, caretaking, child-rearing and more. Nowhere in this structure though is it dictated who exactly fills those roles in our lives. Nowadays we live in a society where the makeup of a family is more diverse and flexible than ever before. But living with that freedom may create friction where traditions rub against this evolution of the family unit.
If You’re Feeling That Friction in Your Family, You Aren’t Alone
Especially after the last two years of social isolation, many of us are feeling the strain. COVID, for all of the pain it’s brought, has given us an opportunity to reset and refocus. Perhaps you’re like me and have a clearer idea of what you want for your children as they grow up in this new normal. Or perhaps you’re simply tired of wishing for your family to be different.
Either way, if you’ve made the decision to start setting healthy boundaries with your family, here are some healthy steps for doing so.
- Be firm and clear about your boundaries. Maybe you simply want to say no more often, stop bearing the brunt of blame, or simply desire space. No matter what line you decide to draw, do so calmly, respectfully, and as clearly as possible. Tell your family about your boundaries, but don’t get angry or apologize. Apologies send a mixed message and staying firm in your words and actions is key for successfully setting a healthy boundary.
- Prepare for pushback. Unfortunately, some people will not like, respect, or understand your decision to set these boundaries for yourself and your family. You are not responsible for how they react. Their anger is their problem only.
- Lean on your true support system. The social group you are most emotionally connected to? That’s your true family. During this process, you may be triggered – through social media, on holidays, or by memories. Lean on your support system during the process of communicating and setting your boundaries.
If you want to start setting some healthy boundaries for yourself, or you’re considering doing so, I suggest reading Boundaries: Where You End And I Begin by Anne Katherine.
As I talked my own shift through with my mom recently, she told me something that truly solidified my boundaries. She told me that when you have to be someone that you’re not around people that supposedly love you, that’s not real happiness.