The other day, I was on the phone with a family member and I could sense the conversation was going to turn into a manipulative monologue. This particular relative has a habit of being passive aggressive, energy-draining, and tries to guilt-trip me into behaving in a way she thinks is acceptable. My gut told me to cut the call short to preserve my mental health and avoid a downward emotional spiral. I was apprehensive because my subconscious told me that would be “rude,” so I sat through the call to my detriment. I spent the rest of the evening in a rut, crying, and consoling my inner child because I didn’t set a boundary I should have.
Setting boundaries with family members can be hard. It also doesn’t help that some toxic family members don’t respect boundaries and see them as a form of disrespect as opposed to an act of love. However, it’s necessary to set them considering a recent article in the National Center for Biotechnology Information tells us the quality of your relationships with family members can positively or negatively affect your health.
Boundaries are new to many of us—especially if you were taught that being nice was more important than being happy. I certainly was taught to prioritize everyone’s else’s happiness and that started with my parents. I grew up thinking that to be a good person and virtuous woman, I had to put everyone else first and forgo my needs. The end result was feeling like I was imploding all of the time and not being honest about what I required to have peace.
I am not writing this from a place of mastery because I’m still learning how to set boundaries with family. Sometimes I’m a rockstar at it and other times, I fail. For instance, I decided I would answer the phone less frequently when a certain family member called because the conversation was often negative. On the other hand, a family member once asked me to cancel my son’s swimming lesson to help her with something that could wait and I did it anyway. People-pleasing won that day. I’m a work in progress.
When I look at the times I fail at setting boundaries, it’s usually for the same reason: fear that my boundaries will make the other person uncomfortable or damage our relationship. However, the more I learn about healthy relationships, the more I understand that rocking the boat and conflict is normal. While compromise is necessary in every relationship, compromising too much of yourself can leave you with feelings of self-betrayal. In my experience, people-pleasing and self-love can rarely co-exist. That’s why boundaries are essential.
A few key takeaways I’ve learned that may help you include the following:
- If you find yourself constantly offended or complaining about something someone does to you, it may be time for a boundary.
- Listen to your gut. If someone is about to cross a boundary, you typically feel it. That’s a good time to reinforce that boundary.
- Boundaries without consequences are counter-productive. The consequence is up to you. It could be ending a call like I wish I had, leaving a relative’s house, or not communicating as often.
- Maintaining relationships with others isn’t more important than maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. That includes family relationships.
- You’re never going to be perfect at setting boundaries because you’re unlearning years of not having any. Show yourself grace.
- Feeling guilt after setting a boundary is ok. Just remind yourself the boundary you set isn’t to hurt the other person, but to show love to yourself.
There is lots of messaging that boundaries mean cutting people off at the first sign of any offense. If you take that route, you may end up without any relationships left because nobody is perfect. That said, boundaries don’t have to be harsh. They can be loving. I’ve learned to think about them as a way of saying, “This is how I love myself and this is the way I’d like you to love me, too.”
Sometimes, you have to give people time and space to adjust to your boundaries because nobody changes instantly. However, if you repeatedly set a boundary with a family member and they still don’t respect it, cutting contact may be the solution that brings you peace.