Growing up, my parents set the standard for their home, as most parents do. They decided how things would operate and allowed minimal feedback from the kids. During the holidays is when I see many of these standards implemented the most. “What goes on in this house stays in this house”, Give _________ a hug”, and “when are you bringing a someone for the holidays?” are all statements or questions I’ve heard and sometimes still hear, in my family. Where things often get sticky is when the child becomes an adult with their own beliefs and boundaries that they want to create for themselves. Many times those boundaries look different than the ones the child experienced when they were young. It’s amazing when children develop into adults and have their own set of beliefs, but how do you go about expressing those beliefs and boundaries to family members who still abide by old narratives?
Check out these steps.
Example of poor boundaries: unsolicited input about your significant other, comments on your body/diet, unsolicited advice about your lifestyle.
Examples of setting healthy boundaries: be clear on your needs, establish rules for how you want to be treated, identify your unique values (which may differ from theirs).
- Be clear.
Discover why certain behaviors or conversations are bothersome to you and identify how they make you feel. Being clear with yourself will help you feel confident sharing your boundaries and secure in what youre asking. State exactly what you need from them without apologizing.
Poor boundaries: “Please stop coming to my house unannounced. Its irritating.”
Try this instead: “It is difficult for me when you stop by unexpectedly. Can you call first moving forward? I am only available on certain days.”
- Be assertive and compassionate
When you practice being assertive it involves stating how you feel and what you need. What many people misunderstand is that you can do this without trying to hurt the other person. Maintain eye contact, keep a calm demeanor, be open, actively listen, monitor your tone, and also understand the other side and difficulties they may be experiencing. Doing these things while still honoring your needs is the goal.
- Practice the “broken record” technique.
If you encounter push back from the other person try out this method. Continue to state your needs clearly and concisely over and over. Do not engage in arguments or tangents. This shows that you are sticking to your boundaries and are not interested in engaging in a negotiation. Try this when you want to reinforce your message without trying to justify why you want it in place.
- Release the guilt about setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries can bring up feelings of fear, doubt, and guilt. In able for us to be assertive, honest, and compassionate we have to recognize the feelings of guilt that may be coming up. While feelings of guilt are normal, its important to evaluate those feelings and know that just because you feel guilt doesnt mean your decision is wrong. Boundaries are important when the desire is to create healthy relationships that we want to preserve. They are also helpful with developing your sense of self.
The next time you feel guilt for setting a boundary, say one of these affirmations to yourself. “I deserve to express myself”, “I deserve to have my needs met”, “Asking for what I need is not wrong”.
You get to decide your boundaries and your terms for relationships. You can do this and im rooting for you!
Alexis Long-Daniels, M.A., ALC, NCC