New Year, New Me: Navigating Family Boundaries
January 1st, 2021
Well… that was an interesting year. If you’re like me, you probably had high expectations for yourself on January 1st of 2020. What this pandemic has done for most of us is provide a different perspective on our lives, as well as make room to re-evaluate our relationships in life. Some of us may have found that our family members have become a little too involved in our personal lives. As we hope the start of 2021 will be better than 2020, now may be a good time to set reasonable expectations and boundaries with those family members who care a lot about us.
Go to therapy. When family conflict arises, it can be difficult to address your concerns out of fear of not being heard. What can be more frustrating is confiding in another family member about your struggles and having your feelings invalidated or dismissed. This happens quite often because of the nature of your relationship with them as well as their familiarity with your personality. They are not fully aware of the amount of growth and change you may have made or are currently making. Having a non-judgmental third party like a therapist can be incredibly beneficial when trying to process family conflict and establish boundaries in your relationships. A therapist will not only provide a space to have your feelings validated but can also help you to prepare and cope with difficult family conversations and reactions.
It’s all about you. I can’t be a good therapist if I don’t get my first cup of coffee in the morning. I can’t bring my best self to the room if I don’t take care of myself first. To bring your best self to all of your relationships, your self-care needs to be a priority. Take some time to explore the things that bring you joy. Finding a way to introduce that joy weekly in a structured way will be incredibly beneficial to your overall stress level. With family, tell yourself it’s okay to take breaks when you’ve had too much family time. Maybe let that phone call go to voicemail. Schedule alone time in which you can focus on your own joy. If you’re not bringing your best self to your family, you put yourself at risk of damaging those relationships. We all need a break sometimes.
Acknowledge and be soft. When family members consistently cross boundaries, they usually don’t recognize their behavior as inappropriate. They may justify it by saying, “I’m just trying to help.” This is valid. Your family members care about you and want to see you happy. This is where you should start. Acknowledge that your family member cares about you and recognize that they have good intentions. Then, follow through with setting your boundary by expressing a vulnerable emotion such as overwhelm, embarrassment or hurt. There are some key things to be aware of. Prepare them by saying “I need to talk to you about something”, so that you don’t catch them off-guard. Avoid using “but” when setting the boundary because your family member will most likely tune you out. Use “we” language instead of “you” language. This helps to avoid defensiveness and blaming. These conversations are always best to have privately to avoid embarrassing them in front of other family members or increasing tension. Remember that deep down, your family loves you and wants the best for you too. Sometimes they just do not know how to express that in a way that also respects your individuality and your boundaries.