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Holding Healthy Boundaries with Family

Hannah Hopper

Many of my clients come into counseling frustrated with family relationships and feeling that they were pushed into agreeing to too much, feeling like they could not ask for what they needed, being unable to say “no” to certain requests from family members, or having trouble staying calm and in control of their emotions when family starts to get under their skin. Whether it is the family you grew up with or your extended family that you’re struggling with, boundaries are often the key to feeling more grounded, confident, and calm in the midst of difficult relationships.

Notice Your Feelings

Our internal feelings are the barometer that help to give us a sense of what is safe, what we value, and also help us know when our boundaries are being pushed too far. If there are certain individuals in your family that you constantly find yourself “losing it” with, this may be an indicator that this person pushes your boundaries. Start to pay attention to how your body reacts around this person and notice if you’re tense, on-edge, or anxious when you spend time around them. This may be your body’s way of telling you that a boundary is being crossed; when you feel this happening take a moment to physically leave the situation by taking a walk, going to the restroom, or finding an errand to run.

Be Direct

It may feel like being passive aggressive or hinting at what you need is the best way to avoid conflict, but in reality it can only lead to more frustration and boundary crossing. When you need to take a break from others, refuse to take off an extra day for the holidays, or confront a family member on inappropriate behavior, being direct is the main way you can protect your boundaries because it helps to get rid of the ambiguity.

Your “No” is Enough

Whether it’s limiting the number of phone calls you have, refusing to give away money that a family member has asked to borrow, or deciding not to attend family gatherings that you have historically attended, your “no” is the only answer that is needed once you have made a decision. Instead of feeling pressured to give a long explanation or to make up excuses, be confident in the decision you have made by giving no more explanation than is needed. Repeated explanations can cause us to feel frustrated, disrespected, and exhausted, so avoid potential boundary crossing by not delving into this arena.

You Control Your Response

You are the only one who controls how you respond to difficult family members. Someone may belittle you or try to push your buttons, but at the end of the day you get to decide how you feel towards this person and how you will respond to them. By reminding yourself of the options you have in any interaction, you feel be able to feel more calm and in control. If a family member is reminding you mistakes you made in the past, decide not to go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts by thinking of things you admire about yourself.

Kindness First

Remember that setting boundaries will be a difficult transition for many family members because it is a change from the status quo. Family members will hear and respect boundaries better if you lead with kindness. Becoming angry or cutting-off others will only cause them to respect you less and become more defensive.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to set up or hold boundaries with family members, it may be helpful to try counseling for extra support. Contact Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our skilled therapists today.

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