Creating Boundaries In Toxic Family Environments
One of the things that makes it difficult to set boundaries, is growing up in an environment where the lines of boundaries got blurred.
This could look like:
Being told to hug or kiss family members even if you didn't want to.
Being guilted into doing things with phrases like “After all I’ve done for you…”
Being ‘punished' with the silent treatment when your parent didn’t like your choices or answers
Having to parent your parent because of their poor choices
Constantly being asked to promise to take care of your parent when they’re older
A parent sharing inappropriate details of their life with you such as details of their sex life, drug usage, or criminal behaviors
Being asked by one parent for you to keep secrets from the other parent
Having a parent that was unable to model self-regulation and frequently dumped their emotions on you
Boundaries are our container of safety and comfortability. As I mentioned in a previous post on the 7 different types of boundaries, we formulate our sense of self and our sense of boundaries in early childhood development- through our interactions with the world around us and our caregivers. When our caregivers aren’t able to model healthy boundaries we grow into adults that are unsure of what healthy boundaries are. We become unable identify differentiate between healthy and unhealthy, what’s ours and what’s someone elses.
Often when we start to make the shift of creating healthier boundaries for ourselves, the people around us aren’t always as responsive or supportive as we’d like them to be. They may even feel threatened by the change or feel that their boundaries are threatened and start to push back with comments like:
Wow you’ve changed
Oh you think you’re better than me/us now
After all I’ve done for you this is how you treat me
Who do you think you are
I wonder how long this will last
We’ll see how well you do without me around
We don’t do that in our family/ culture
What this does is creates a sense of self doubt, feelings of unworthiness, and questioning in the person trying to create healthy boundaries for themselves which then carries into other aspects of their life. This causes the person to ask “do I even deserve to do this?” “Is this okay for me to do or am I being selfish?” “Maybe I am overreacting.”
In short: more blurred lines, unhealthy relationships, and breakdown of self.
Self esteem, image, worth, and value.
My clients will often ask, how do I set healthy boundaries without causing conflict in my relationships, without pushback, without making it a “big deal” within the family over the changes. It’s important to remember that we have no control over how others choose to respond to our boundaries, we only have control over our responses.
A different question to ask: how do I hold space for myself and my boundaries while respecting that others may not agree with me?
Here are some starters:
This is not a personal attack towards you, this is something I need to do maintain my own health and wellbeing.
I am learning how to take better care of myself and this is something that I need in order to do that.
I can respect where you are coming from, we will have to agree to disagree.
I appreciate you sharing your feelings/ thoughts on this, my decision hasn’t changed.
Say nothing. You don't have to defend or explain your boundaries and in some cases, the best choice may be to limit your interaction.
Not everyone will like the choices we make for ourselves and our wellbeing, we have to make them anyway. The more we practice setting and speaking up for our container, our space, our peace, the less angstful it will feel over time and the easier it becomes. Practice, after all, makes progress. 🖤
Share in the comments below, what’s something you’ve done that’s helped you create healthy boundaries for yourself?