Setting Boundaries Part One
I know it has been a while since I last posted on this website and I apologize! I work retail and during the few weeks leading up to Christmas it is insane and the hours are longer! Truthfully, I should really work on my time management skills. Add it to my resolutions for 2022 and a topic we can unpack together here! Boundaries is a topic I have been wanting to write about for a while, but when I started thinking about it I realized this is more of a multiple part conversation! Setting boundaries is a one of the hardest things we do as adults and we have to set them everywhere. We need boundaries with our family, our friends, at work, even with our children. If I wrote one post about setting general boundaries it would be a disservice to all, so I decided to break it down by where/with who. This post will be centered around setting boundaries with your family.
I will start by telling you a little story. When I was 18 years old I had this boyfriend that I my dad really couldn't stand. It wasn't because this boy had done anything to him. He hated him because I ALWAYS complained about him. Any time we had even a little disagreement I would tell my dad because I wanted someone on my side. We were so young, so we always had disagreements. One night he was coming to pick me up to go hang out with friends and it was during my dads poker night. He had all of his buddies in the basement with him. I told my boyfriend to just send me a text when he got to my house and I would run outside, but my dad didn't approve of that. He is old school and thought he should come to the door and pick me up properly. This all stems from everything I had told him and how my dad had decided he didn't treat me well. Naturally when he sent me a text message I tried to casually slip out of the house, but my dad (and all of his friends) literally RAN as fast as they could up the steps to get to the door. Luckily, in the end, I made it to his car before my dad made it to the front door. The lesson in this lovely story of overprotective father syndrome is that my dad wouldn't have felt as strongly if I hadn't ignored every boundary and told him about everything from a small disagreement to an all out yelling match.
I can openly admit that setting boundaries anywhere is something that I am still learning to do, but I think setting boundaries with your family is the hardest one to master because we don't want to hurt feelings, or seem ungrateful. The first thing to note is that setting boundaries isn't a negative thing. Some people hear the word boundaries and instantly put a negative connotation on it. Boundaries are simply your personal guidelines for the way you expect people to treat you. When we aren't being treated the way we expect people in our family to treat us it immediately causes a rift, feelings of frustration grow overtime when things aren't communicated, and before you know it family gatherings are something to stress about instead of look forward to. I used to get anxious before attending big family gatherings because the same questions were always aimed right at me. Everyone asking about my dating life, was I going to get married someday, were kids in my future, and then when the answer was pretty much always I don't know they would tell me that it would happen for me someday with this look on their face that felt like pity. This used to drive me insane because not once did they ask if I even wanted to get married or have children, or ask about how my actual goals in life were going. They didn't take an interest in my actual life, but in the one they expected of me. It not only really irritated me, but it hurt my feelings. Thankfully, no one asks if I am going to have kids someday anymore, so I suppose there is one benefit to having a miscarriage. (yes, I can make jokes about it now)
It created this enormous feeling of anxiety anytime I knew there was a big family gathering I had to attend. At some point I even got the reputation of not showing up to many family gatherings and it became a joke about how I graced people with my presence when I did. Which honestly I found kind of funny. It took therapy and some serious self reflection to realize that this anxiety was of my own making. I would build it up in my head that they didn't like the way I chose to live my life all the way down to what I was wearing. This was quite literally NEVER the case, but because I never set the boundary and communicated clearly what my life goals were and what they could/should ask me about it built up overtime. Before even setting boundaries with your family acknowledge that they aren't out to get you and that they only want what's best for you because they love you. Even if what they think is best isn't what your idea of best is. A lot of people feel anxious over seeing family, especially at the holidays, because we feel like they are trying to control us, convey their version of our lives onto us, and just blatantly disrespect the way we currently live our life.
I did a ton of research and there were so many different opinions on a million different websites on how to set boundaries with your family. I decided to take this research and create a list of the Top 5 best practices for you all! I sincerely hope this helps because it has been helping me!
Determine what boundary it is you want to set. Is it a boundary with your children, your personal life decisions, you relationships, etc. It is okay if you have several you would like to set, but only address one at a time because it can feel like an attack to another person. Ease into it and set one at a time per family gathering. They should respect what you're saying since it is YOUR life after all.
Give yourself permission to do what is best for you. Society makes us believe that we HAVE to spend time with our families at the holidays. If what is best for you, your family, and your sanity is to have a quiet holiday at home then you should do just that guilt free. At the end of the day you are your biggest advocate and supporter, so advocate for yourself and do what's best for you.
Know your triggers and anticipate them. This is a big one. Your triggers can be anything from your family asking about your dating life to your cousin touching dinner before its been put on the table. Know what it is that's going to trigger you and how you are going to cope with it. What techniques can you use to center your mind and let it roll of your shoulders instead of consume you. If you already know what situation will set you off AND how to handle it then you can tackle anything. It also helps to make a list of coping mechanisms for you to be armed with!
Practice saying No. There are a lot of people-pleasers out there. I know someone who is a chronic people-pleaser and has the hardest time saying no to anyone, especially their family. Understand the difference between "soft no's" and "hard no's" A soft no leaves room for a potential yes. Essentially, no to right now and yes to the request. A hard no is finite and firm. No, thank you; Sorry, I already have plans. It is firm and it is clear. Role play this with friends, or a significant other if saying no is something you are uncomfortable with.
Be clear about your needs a communicate them. Do you need your mother in law to come over after the house is set and you are showered and ready? How much time do you want your family over your house, did you put an end time on the invitation? Did you create a menu so that everyone is pitching in and it's not just you doing everything? It is your life and your time. Once you have established your limits communicate them clearly and kindly.
Setting limits not only makes you feel stronger because you are standing up for yourself, but it lets people know that you know your needs and you aren't afraid to enforce them. As uncomfortable as setting boundaries may be they are actually great for a relationship, not bad. I sincerely hope this is helpful to anyone who has been struggling with family boundaries. As always you can start a discussion in the forum to get advice, tips, or simply find community here. Next boundary post will be how to set boundaries in the workplace!