How to Set Boundaries With Family

This summer, you’re spending time with your family. Perhaps there’s a quiet trip to the beach with your family, weddings, or an entire family reunion. It can help you reconnect with roots, relieve stress, and boost your mood. Not all family relationships, however, improve your well-being.

When you have family members who leave you feeling uncomfortable, unappreciated, unworthy, or unloved, it can negatively impact your mental health. The key to improving these relationships is learning to set boundaries. Setting boundaries with your family of origin or your chosen family can help you enjoy the time you spend with loved ones while taking care of your own needs.

Setting boundaries can help you manage everything from saying no to the family gift exchange this year to cutting ties with one or more family members. This blog gives you the tools to set appropriate boundaries with your family so you can return to enjoying your interactions with them.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are real or imaginary lines marking the limits of something. Personal boundaries are rules or limits you create to clearly define how other people are allowed to behave toward you and what you will do or say if someone violates your limits. Your boundaries combine your beliefs about relationships with your past experiences to help maintain your individuality and protect your needs. Boundaries are vital in healthy relationships because they allow us to give and receive without losing ourselves.

Healthy Boundaries Improve Relationships

Without clear boundaries, our loved ones won’t know how to treat us. This could lead to hurt feelings, emotional distance, and an inability to feel safe with family. If this happens, you’ll dread spending time with your family and may even avoid them. When you set appropriate boundaries, you’re teaching people how to treat you, allowing you to spend more time with them than you would without limitations.

How Do You Know it’s Time to Set Boundaries?

When dealing with a difficult or toxic family member, it can be pretty obvious when you need to set boundaries. Perhaps they say or do things that make you uncomfortable, such as snide remarks about your weight, physical appearance, or career success. Sometimes, however, the need for a boundary is less obvious.

Boundaries aren’t only for toxic people – sometimes you need boundaries about gossiping, social media, intrusive questions, or social time. A good indicator that you need to set a limit is a feeling of discomfort – you might have butterflies in your stomach approaching a family event or feel tired midway through a visit. Paying attention when your body signals stress is an excellent way to discover areas of your life that will benefit from boundaries.

Types Of Boundaries

Personal boundaries fall into a few categories. When you decide to set a limit to alleviate a source of discomfort during family gatherings knowing which type of boundary you need to set can help you decide on the language to use and what your next steps should be if someone violates your boundary.

  • Emotional boundaries are boundaries when you separate your feelings from the feelings of others. If you can maintain emotional boundaries, you don’t change your behavior based on the emotions of others. You also take responsibility for your behavior and problems.
  • Personal space boundaries include standing too close and unwanted touching (including hugs you don’t want to give. Personal space also includes limits about someone going through your phone or other personal belongings.
  • Intellectual boundaries may be increasingly important at family gatherings if you hold different social and political views than your family. Intellectual boundaries involve respecting the ideas of others and keeping rules of polite discussion in mind.
  • Financial boundaries involve what you share about your financial situation, what information you want about the finances of others, and whether or not you’re willing to share your financial resources with family members. This could be anything from splitting a check at a restaurant to loaning your brother a few thousand dollars to help him out of his most recent problem. It’s okay not to engage in family gossip.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries starts with knowing yourself. Get some personal and mental space from a situation that’s making you uncomfortable, then spend some time thinking about what needs to change for you to feel better about your interactions with that family member. There are many ways to set boundaries, but most methods have a few standard components. Here are some tips to help you feel prepared when you initiate a boundary-setting conversation.

  • Remember that your needs are important.
  • Be kind but firm. Your boundary is not negotiable.
  • Be willing to walk away if the other person becomes agitated or refuses to listen. Don’t engage or compromise your boundary.
  • Practice what you want to say.
  • Establish consequences in advance, and tell the other person what they are.
  • Consider communicating in writing if that’s easier and safer.

Many people find it helpful to write out what they want to say. Here’s a sample personal space boundary script to help you get started:

I need to set a boundary about personal space. I will no longer allow you to go through my phone. I’ve changed the password, and I won’t share it with you or anyone else. This is a boundary, and I will no longer spend time with you if you violate it.

If you’re setting a boundary about emotional or intellectual space, try something like this:

“I feel upset when you gossip about other members of the family. I will no longer participate in those conversations because it doesn’t feel good to me. If you initiate a conversation involving gossip, I will remove myself from the conversation and your presence.”

How to Handle Boundary Violations

This is perhaps the most challenging part of setting boundaries. When you establish a consequence for boundary violation, you must come to terms with the fact that you’ll probably have to enforce it. People aren’t perfect, and while your loved one learns to respect your new boundaries, they will inevitably stumble. You’ll need to use the consequence you established to remind them how to treat you and reinforce that your limitations are important.

With any boundary, it’s vital to remember you are only in charge of your own thoughts and behaviors. If another person doesn’t uphold your boundaries, you can respond appropriately, but you can’t demand that they change their behavior. If the above example, if your loved one cannot respect your right to privacy, you’ll need to be prepared to permanently end the relationship if they consistently fail to uphold your boundaries.

Get Help Establishing Boundaries

Setting appropriate boundaries and reinforcing them is a form of self-care. It helps you define your individuality and proves that you love and value yourself. However, if your family of origin struggled with healthy relationships and appropriate boundaries, you may lack the tools to set boundaries in your adult relationships successfully. Luckily this is a skill you can learn. You can create healthier relationships through boundary setting with the help of a therapist.

A therapist can help you work through the feelings of discomfort that indicate a need for a boundary, decide what boundaries are appropriate, ad even help you write a script for communicating your boundary with your family members. We also offer family therapy services if you want your loved one to attend sessions with you. Reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment to learn how to take care of your emotional needs through setting boundaries with family.

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