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Setting Healthy Boundaries With Family

Madissyn Fredericks, Licensed Professional Counselor

Sometimes those we are closest to are the ones who are most difficult to set boundaries with, and family is no exception. Our family usually knows how to cheer us up, motivate us, and care for us, however, sometimes they also know how to hurt us. Even if your family is healthy and functional there may be a few family members who cross the line when it comes to your boundaries. By definition a boundary is anything that marks a limit. In families this may be the amount of communication, the extent to which private and personal information is shared, physical space, or emotional space. Whether it is your nosey mom asking how dating is going or your sister calling sequentially while you are at work to ask a favor, it is important to speak up when you feel a line has been crossed. When your boundaries are not respected by your family, it is important that you set and maintain them in a healthy way. While it isn’t easy to do, your needs and limits are important and worth voicing.

Understand Your Needs

As individuals we all have needs that can sometime be difficult to ask for. The fear is that we may hurt or annoy the other person in asking for space, attention, or love. It is important that you take some time to reflect on what you need from your family, what triggers you, and why your needs are important. In family dynamics it is common to feel like our needs aren’t as important as theirs but this is far from the truth.

Be Direct and Kind

Setting boundaries with family doesn’t mean you have to be harsh. Try to leave anger and defensiveness at the door and lead the conversation with kindness. Firmly yet respectfully state what you need/expect from them so the boundary is defined and follow-up with appreciation. Having an open and honest conversation is bound to be more productive than one with aggression or immobilization.

Realistic Expectations

Once you have established a healthy boundary with a family member make sure you set realistic expectations of what they can do. For example, if your dad calls you every day and you would like to have a phone conversation once per week, maybe you compromise on two or three and work towards your goal. Another example is being realistic about how much time you can spend with them. Maybe you go home for one or two days rather than five for a holiday. Be realistic in terms of your expectations of yourself and others and the boundaries will feel more tolerable.

Stand Up For Yourself

Establishing boundaries with family doesn’t mean they will automatically be respected. Be prepared to stand up for yourself, be assertive, and even walk away from the situation if you have to. If your boundaries are not being respected you can say, “I do not appreciate being made fun of. If you don’t stop I will leave.” This reiterates the boundary and demands respect. It can feel scary and out of character to maintain a boundary but it is important if they are impacting your physical and mental health. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.

If you are finding it difficult to set and maintain healthy boundaries within your family and would like some support, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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