Live Better. Love Better. Work Better.

Why is Boundary-Setting With my Parents so Difficult?

Zoe Mittman

Licensed Social Worker


Fill in the statements below:

I am ___.

Other people are ___.

The world is ___.

At Symmetry Counseling, we believe our past experiences impact how we view ourselves and others and how we navigate through the world. If you compare your above three answers with other people, you are likely to have many different answers, yet also some subtle similarities.

Childhood is a critical time of development. Therefore, the relationship you had with your parents growing up can impact how you function in the present day. Our focus with this article is to help you understand how past experiences may have shaped who you are today. You can then use this understanding as motivation to identify outdated thoughts/beliefs and replace them with more helpful, realistic ones. With that, we can act to show up as the person we want to be. If you are looking for guidance on how to identify these outdated thoughts and how to navigate past them, contact us today to get paired up with one of our expert counselors.

Emotional Security

Did you get in trouble when expressing your feelings to your parents? Were you immediately shut down? Yelled at? If so, it makes sense that you learned to protect yourself by keeping your feelings bottled up inside. You may have learned that your feelings are not valid, and therefore, you do not deserve to feel upset, sad, or frustrated. In adulthood, this might look like avoiding confrontation with friends/romantic partners and experiencing low self-worth. If we keep our feelings suppressed for too long, they are going to present themselves in one way or another. You may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking, excessive spending habits, or an intense argument may occur. 

The Power Of Grounding

Try taking a moment to thank your inner child for protecting you. You once learned to protect yourself and survive by keeping your feelings for yourself. You may have developed the core belief that “expressing my feelings is unsafe. My feelings are less important than others.” After thanking your inner child, we encourage you to practice a grounding technique. Take deep breaths and engage your five senses to remind yourself of where you are in the present moment. The more frequently you express your feelings as an adult and receive them well, the more you are rewriting the narrative for yourself. You are teaching yourself that your feelings are valid and helping improve your self-esteem.

“What if my parents still ignore my feelings?”

Boundary setting can be extremely stressful. However, boundaries can help enhance and strengthen relationships. It is likely that your boundaries were constantly crossed as a kid if you are struggling to set them with your parents in the present moment. A part of boundary-setting may also be grieving the parent-child relationship you wish you had. The grief process encompasses five stages: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is quite common for grief to come in waves and for it to happen unexpectedly. Acceptance does not mean you have to like the situation. Acceptance refers to acknowledging reality for what it is without trying to change it. It also incorporates an aspect of control. You may feel more empowered if you acknowledge reality for what it is and then focus on what you can control (setting boundaries).

Here are some examples of boundaries to set with your parents as you navigate the child-parent relationship in adulthood: 

  • Telling your parents it is not a suitable time to talk
  • Let them know your work hours in advance. 
  • Ask them to please not show up at your place unannounced. 
  • Utilize “I” statement to communicate your feelings and needs. 
  • Saying “no” to certain plans and invites. 
  • You are an adult juggling many responsibilities. 
  • You are not a superhero. You cannot show up in several places at once. 

There are softer ways of saying “no,” or you can say “no” directly. No matter how you approach it, ultimately, setting these boundaries can not only help bring you piece but can help you set the foundation for future healthy relationships.

If you live in Chicago and find yourself struggling to navigate the relationship with your parents, please get in touch with one of our licensed professionals at Symmetry Counseling today. We can help you identify boundaries you are willing to set and work with you through the implementation process.


Symmetry Counseling Recent News Image 4
Recent Posts

When to Go to Couples Therapy? When You Notice These 3 Sign

Apr 30, 2024

Zoe Mittman, LSW If you’re asking the question “when to go to couples therapy”, you are in the right place. I am going to spend some time talking about 3 signs couples therapy may be a good fit for you.…

Read More

Healing the Heart – Tips for How to Get Over a Breakup

Apr 23, 2024

Breakups can be extremely difficult for both the heart and the mind. Grieving the loss of a relationship is taxing both mentally and emotionally. Whether you initiated the breakup or are the individual being broken up with, the pain and…

Read More

Surviving the Holidays: 5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Apr 16, 2024

Paula Gonzalez MA, LPC, ADHD-CCSP, CIMHP                                                                                         The Christmas holiday season can be filled with “tidings of comfort and joy!.” It can also be filled with lots of invitations to holiday parties that will have you “rockin’ around the Christmas tree…

Read More