How To Set Boundaries With Family

There are two sides to every boundary - but you can only control one.

That’s the hardest thing to learn and to accept for so many of us - for the ones who need control, for the people pleasers, for the traumatized, the anxious, and the scared. All we can do is state our boundaries clearly and follow through with holding them. We cannot force anyone on the other side to accept them.

SETTING NEW BOUNDARIES

The closer we get to the holidays, the more moms I see on social media bemoaning the upcoming family time. Whether it’s the way your mother-in-law talks to you or what your uncle talks about - family gatherings can be a minefield. But it does not have to be like that.

You can tell the people around you what you will and will not accept. You can make choices that center the mental, emotional, and physical health of yourself and your family. You are allowed to not suffer through the holidays. Your experience of your life is important.

So how do you actually set boundaries?

First, you do the work to know where you need them and what you want them to be.

Then you have a few choices to make:

  • When will you set the boundary? Are you going to wait for a violation and address it in the moment? Or are you more comfortable setting it before an incident occurs? This is entirely personal and can change depending on the situation.

  • How will you set the boundary? Are you sending an email to your entire family about what the expectations are for their visit or the big holiday meal? Will you call one or two folks and allow the message to spread? Is this a conversation you need to have face to face?

  • What supports do you need? Are you safe (physically, emotionally, mentally) if you set this in person and face to face? Do you need to write a script? Would role-playing help?

GET SPECIFIC AND CREATIVE

The more clarity and specificity you can bring to the boundary the easier it will be to set and hold. So this is a time to really drill down and find out what you want, when, and from whom. Then say that!

And get creative. Who do you know that can help you to role play this encounter? Who could help you to write a script? Write out what you’re going to say, practice it, change it if it doesn’t feel like it is really, truly you. If you have a therapist, counsellor, or coach, this is a great thing to ask them to help with!

What is the way you are most comfortable communicating? If your family has a text chain or a group thread on social media do you want to use that? What medium will enable you to be most clear. Do you need something that will also give you or a family member privacy? Do you need something that you will be able to refer back to later? YOU get to make the rules here.

Where are you going to look for support during this? Can you Facetime your best friend while you are writing the email? Can your partner hold your hand while you speak to your family?

COURAGE AND FOLLOW THROUGH

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that if you follow all fo these steps you’ll be confident when it comes time to set the boundary. But that ‘s bullshit. Your hands may shake. Your voice may shake. You may be sweaty and your stomach may be a knot, or a butterfly, or a knot of butterflies.

It’s not about confidence, it’s about courage. Confidence comes from knowing that you can handle something. Confidence comes after you have done something well. Courage is about being afraid and doing it anyway. Standing up is more important than leaning in every time.

Knowing how you will follow through can help give you the courage to take a stand in the first place. So create a plan that will work for you in case your boundary is not received well. Will you walk out? Will you disinvite someone? Will you cancel an event? What will your follow through be?

HOLY CRAP, THIS IS A LOT

Yeah, I know. Setting boundaries can be really hard and can bring up a lot of emotion on all sides. So why even do it? Because on the other side, after the nerves and the explaining and the tension, comes freedom and peace.

If you can’t see boundaries as beautiful things right now, I completely understand. I’ve created a meditation that will quiet your mind and renew your spirit. Listen to it now and then go create some amazing boundaries.

Graeme Seabrook