Drawing The Line: How To Set Boundaries With Your Family

This year, we need to have a discussion about protecting your personal wellbeing as we head into the holidays. Before we navigate into the next few weeks, you need to figure out how to set up clear boundaries with your family in order to ensure that everyone comes out of 2020 in one piece and still speaking.

how to set boundaries with family

Healthy boundaries are usually naturally created in marriages and in parental relationships. However, when it comes to the extended family – all bets are off.

What are family boundaries?

By definition, a boundary is something that simply separates two unique things. The split can be forced due to a material item – such as a wall or a fence, but it doesn’t stop there.

A mental or emotional boundary can also protect you. These boundaries represent an understanding that can stop a conversation before it even begins.

family boundaries

Boundaries will vary

In the end, boundaries are just LIMITS. What exactly are you willing to accept from someone else? And it doesn’t matter WHO that person is to you. I don’t care that he is your uncle or your father or your Aunt’s third rich husband.

Power should be removed from the equation. This year – more than ever – you have to protect your mental health. What are you willing to accept from another individual? What limits do you need to put in place? What do you need to define FIRST before you walk through that door?

The boundaries you set will be uniquely different than those that your neighbor will place. You might not be offended by crass humor. In fact, you might LOVE IT!

Another example? You might love to fight about politics compared to your sister who simply doesn’t have the energy for it. Everyone will have different needs.

That creepy uncle who keeps rubbing the small of your back – maybe this year …. that’s over. Maybe this year, you finally say something because you are old enough and strong enough to address it. But your mother brushes it off as “not a big deal because that’s just the way he is”. We all have these stories. (PS – talk to your mother)

It’s important for you to define the healthy boundaries that work for YOU. And what works for YOU might not make sense for the person LITERALLY sitting next to you at the dinner table. Guess what? That’s ok!

examples of boundaries

What are some examples of boundaries?

If you don’t even know how to mentally tap into all the raging emotions that you are feeling right now because you know that you feel off but you don’t know how to fix it, here are a few examples to get you started:

Following one another on social media 

A lot of people are uncomfortable talking about this because they feel that it is too superficial to argue over, but the truth is that social media is a wrench in many relationships.

Your life in the real world and your life online don’t always have to blend. Do you need to follow your crazy Aunt online or is hearing her off-the-wall rants really damaging your perception of her right now?

Is it best if you two decide to just unfollow one another for the sake of your personal relationship? Think about that. It’s real. If you don’t like her comments on your photos – then maybe it’s time to block. Honor your personal space.

religion boundaries

Talking about religion and politics

Talking about religion and politics with your family can sometimes become an issue. Both are heavy topics causing huge rifts and divides.

If your passion is uncontrollable and you cannot befriend anyone who disagrees with you as of late, then maybe you need to really consider choosing to not approach these subjects with the people you love. If you can’t respectfully have a discussion with certain people in your family and YOU STILL WANT TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH THOSE PEOPLE, then you need to consider this.

This is our new world. If you refuse to have a relationship with anyone that disagrees with you – then unfriend for a different purpose.

Password sharing

Being a relative does not owe you the right to (quite literally) access every piece of information about a family member. Devices are something very personal and private. It’s not a given that they should be accessed by everyone equally.

If there is information about you on your cellphone, email, or even computer and you are not comfortable sharing that information, that’s ok. Keep your passwords to yourself. There is no obligation to share.

“People are afraid to set boundaries because they think it risks the relationship,” said Karen C.L. Anderson, author of “Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters: A Guide For Separation, Liberation & Inspiration” and a life coach specializing in family boundaries. But it’s important to focus on healthy boundaries that benefit every party member involved. This is a critical part of working towards self care.

Remember, setting healthy boundaries will help to transform your relationship and eventually will elevate your own self-respect. 

Alone time away from one another

Do you have toxic relatives? Is there someone that you have in your life that sucks the life out of you? Maybe this is the year that you acknowledge that.

Actively search to surround yourself with people who build you up instead of those who tear you down. Limiting time with toxic people shows a great display of self-love. Our family doesn’t get to abuse us just because they are family.

enforce family boundaries

How do you enforce the boundaries?

Do you have trouble standing up to your parents or other family members? You’re not alone, don’t worry.

With practice, you’ll be able to develop a healthier relationship with your relatives by having a more open dialogue about setting boundaries. Here are some key tips to making that happen:

Be direct and firm when defining the barrier

Sometimes you do not realize a boundary is there until it is crossed. Identify your needs in advance and communicate them clearly and kindly – BEFORE attending your next event. It’s important to stay true to your core self and not be afraid of communicating your limits to others. Again, this falls in line with taking care of yourself FIRST. Do not dismiss your need for self care right now!

holiday boundaries for families

Get support from friends

It’s important to have your friends by your side when dealing with difficult family members. Communicate how you feel about your toxic relatives and why you need to set a boundary. Your friends will support the decision that works the best for your own interest and offer your guidance when needed.

Set consequences

For boundaries to work and for new healthy relationships to form, you need to set consequences in case they are not respected. They can be as simple as leaving the room, hanging up the phone, or not attending the next family gathering. Do not be afraid to do what you have to set the message across.

no respect from family

What if people don’t respect your choice?

The concept of boundary setting with family members can be complicated due to guilt. But in the end, it comes down to your commitment to stay true to what you believe.

When you’re faced with a family member refusing to comply with the boundaries you set, it is tempting to condemn them and even to stop talking with them out of revenge. But rather than keeping yourself in a state of anger, you should try to find some sort of balance.

Remember, you are starting from a place with a lack of boundaries. This is all new territory. Everyone has to learn new behaviors. Give people time.

Accept that some people won’t respect your choice, no matter what you ask of them

Not everyone is used to having people around them restricting what they can or can’t say or do. The concept of personal boundaries might be entirely new for some!

Your family might react negatively when you come forward with your request. Know that this doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It just means that your entire family needs to acknowledge that unhealthy boundaries need to be discussed and addressed.

Difficult people typically need a period of time to get accustomed to change. Choosing to work through the confusion will split out your healthy vs unhealthy relationships.

Decide whether you should limit your contact with them

A little distance never hurt anybody, and if it’s better for both parts to limit time with each other, then, you must do what feels right. If you are a people pleaser, this might be really hard for you to acknowledge, but certain things must remain off limits. Doing this hard work will end your dysfunctional relationships for good.

respect from others

See whether any of your boundaries are negotiable

Communication is crucial and you must remember that you’re not alone in this. Have a dialogue with your relative where you openly communicate what you’re trying to achieve, maybe you’ll reach a common ground together.

Setting boundaries with family members can be tough, but if you are feeling attacked, exhausted, winded, or hurt – it is necessary to discuss. What boundaries are you considering putting in place with your family members this holiday season?

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