Setting healthy boundaries in families is an important part of your health and well-being, but the process can be tricky when you need to do it with family. Whether they’re in-laws, siblings or extended blood relatives, difficult family members can take a toll on your mental health and overall peace of mind
The fact remains that it is more difficult to set boundaries with the people with whom you are closest. Even if your family is relatively happy and functional, there might still be members of that family that cross the line sometimes or simply treat you in a way that you would prefer not to be treated.
Boundaries are important, as they teach others how to treat us and if we constantly cross those boundaries or allow our family members to cross them, we’re not taking care of ourselves. Rather, we’re prioritizing their needs over our own.
Healthy boundaries take into consideration one’s personal needs, values, and wants while respecting others. Unhealthy boundaries are those that disregard your own and others’ values, needs, wants, and limits.
Healthy boundaries in families are strong yet flexible. In families, they tend to follow a natural, trusting flow that allows them to shift with the mutual agreement as situations change. They’re about having respect for one another’s differences and needs, and allowing one another to feel, think, and act independently without criticism, persuasion, or guilt.
Boundaries simply give you the right to say no, to be yourself, to express your emotions and have differing opinions within the family while still being able to love and care for each other,
A healthy relational boundary between parents, for example, enables them to have a private life separate from their children. Parents share confidences and sexual intimacy with one another that are not shared with the children or others outside the family. This is a healthy boundary to have.
To develop good boundaries, we need to recognize what we want or need in certain situations. It is not healthy for one or both parents to use the children as confidants for their marital problems or show romantic expressions of affection toward their children. So, boundaries function to keep some information and action private.
5 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries In Families
1. Learn To Put Your Needs First
Setting healthy boundaries in families starts with considering your personal needs and putting them first. Ask yourself what you need from yourself and others to identify which boundaries you need to establish. Putting your needs first above the needs and wants of others is a great way to set healthy boundaries in families.
People who deal with difficult family members frequently find that they’re ignoring their personal needs in favour of their families. Whether you have to eat, sleep or need some time to yourself, you must put those necessities first before addressing the needs of others. Remember, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. Putting yourself first is a great place to start when determining which boundaries you should put in place.
Your boundaries are in place for you, not the other person. Make sure to express them in a way that’s about you and what you’re going to do rather than what they should or should not do.
2. Set Realistic Expectations For Relationships
It’s essential to set realistic expectations for your relationships with your family members. Since change is constant, you must recognize how much effort members of your family are likely to make before discussing your boundaries with them.
Setting realistic expectations for your relationships is necessary to maintain your well-being. Most times, people who engage in toxic behaviour are often resistant to change.
If a family member proves to be difficult and consistently oversteps your boundaries, would clearer communication help, or are they likely to continue their behaviour regardless of what you say?
Set realistic expectations for your relationships that will help you to accept your difficult family members as they are and be prepared to follow through on the consequences if they ignore your boundaries. By doing this, you’ll lessen the impact their toxic behaviour has on you and your emotional or mental well-being.
3. Take A Direct And Kind Approach
Understanding how to set healthy boundaries in families with siblings or other difficult family members starts with a direct but kind approach. It’s important to directly express your concerns, perspective and desire to set healthy boundaries whenever possible. Focus on being kind and understanding while remaining firm in the decisions you make when setting boundaries with family members and communicating how you want them to treat you.
If you’re nervous about taking a direct approach, you can consider practising what you want to say and what manner or tune to use with a trusted friend before having a face-to-face conversation with your family member. When you take a simple, direct approach, you may be surprised at your family member’s understanding and show appreciation for your honesty.
4. You Should Learn To Say “No”
If you are the type that naturally loves to please people, saying no can be extremely challenging in the beginning. However, while saying no to family members takes practice, it gets easier over time. Though you are likely to catch difficult family members off guard when they hear you say no for the very first time to requests. This is a great way to set healthy boundaries in families.
The word “no” is liberating and empowering, especially when you’re establishing boundaries and setting expectations for others. Learning to say no will save you from numerous heartaches in life, especially when dealing with difficult family members.
Sometimes you might want to say no to a request but you find yourself saying yes, this attitude impacts your self-esteem and self-respect and can eventually lead to conflict and resentment. Those feelings can be more significant hazards to your relationships than saying no to a request. Expect your family members to respect your decisions when you say no. If they continue to ignore your boundaries, it might be time to reconsider your relationship.
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5. Learn To Walk Away
One of the best ways to set healthy boundaries in families is learning to walk away when you’re feeling angry or uncomfortable.
Knowing when to walk away will help you set healthy boundaries with yourself as well as with difficult members of your family. Managing boundaries and avoiding conflicts with difficult family members helps you conserve your mental and emotional energy. Setting boundaries is about understanding your limits. Walking away simply means you’ve reached your limit for a behaviour or action and staying longer might result in a dispute.
Walking away is particularly helpful if your family’s behaviour ever makes you angry enough to lose your temper and blow up at them. When you find yourself starting to get angry or experience anxiety, walking away can be the best form of self-care.
Walking away means physically removing yourself, providing you with instant relief from the tension associated with escalating family conflicts or uncomfortable topics of conversation. It’s okay to simply get up and walk away if you have to do so to preserve your boundaries.
A balanced family boundary system incorporates a healthy mix of engagement and autonomy for the individuals in that family. It is challenging to find where that boundary line should be, especially when it has not been drawn healthily. But, with open communication about how you want boundaries in your family to change, along with lots of practice, you can learn how to build much healthier relationships that are respectful, safe and meaningful.
If you’re struggling or find it difficult to set healthy boundaries in families and wonder where to start, professional counselling and support can help get you on track.
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