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  • Writer's pictureMichaela Cooper

Setting Boundaries with Family is Hard! Learn Why and 4 Tips on How to Help!

Updated: Feb 5

an image of a hand holding a tan piece of paper with "love yourself" on it.

Why Do We Need Boundaries?

There are limited things we can be in complete and total control of in our lives. One of the few things we CAN control are the boundaries we set for ourselves. These boundaries allow us to protect our peace, insist upon the respect we deserve, and maintain our autonomy. Setting boundaries is an important part in all relationships, not just romantic ones.

So now we know we need boundaries, but what exactly are boundaries? Today the word “boundary” has become a common pop culture reference, but are we using it correctly? Recently actor Jonah Hill made headlines as he demanded that his girlfriend needed to respect his boundaries. So is that what boundaries are, a set of rules that everyone around us must follow? In short, yes; however, this can easily be misconstrued. Jonah Hill’s now infamous misuse of the term boundaries shows a perfect example of how boundaries can be weaponized if the definition isn’t fully understood.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are a form of self love. Boundaries ARE rules that you get to set for yourself; unfortunately, you cannot force anyone to follow those rules. Setting a boundary for yourself means exactly that: a boundary for yourself. For example setting a boundary like “I will not allow myself to be disrespected” doesn’t automatically make everyone respect you; however, it does set a standard for you to follow. People in your life will either choose to respect your boundaries or ignore them. The difficult part of boundaries is enforcing them. If you find someone ignoring your boundary after you have clearly communicated with them, the next step may feel impossible, you have to uphold your own boundary. The beautiful part about life is you get to choose who you allow into your space. Removing someone that has chosen to ignore your boundaries is one way of upholding those boundaries.

If someone is disrespectful to you they no longer have access to you or your life, it sounds easy enough right? You set a boundary. You uphold the boundary. You get to choose who has access to you! Setting boundaries is not always so black and white though.

Setting Boundaries with Family Members

What happens when the person ignoring your boundaries raised you, lives with you, or financially supports you? This is the case for many people as they struggle to set boundaries with family members. There are many reasons why setting boundaries with family members can be complicated and difficult. Depending on your relationship with your family and the family dynamic you may not feel like you are able to set boundaries, you may not realize that you need to set boundaries, and you may worry about hurting family members by requesting they respect your boundaries.

Some family dynamics are very traditional and rigid, the younger generation respects the older generation, and so forth and so on, as far back as anyone can remember. This dynamic leaves little room for the younger generations to set boundaries and older generations to respect them. Breaking this traditional cycle is difficult and for some may not even seem worth it. If you find yourself in a situation like this it is important to accept and understand that your needs are important too. The first step in setting a boundary is believing that your thoughts, feelings, needs, and emotions are valid and you deserve respect just like anyone else.

Boundaries have only recently become commonplace in our society. Many people grow up believing that their families’ way of life is the only way and they don’t realize that they need to set boundaries for themselves. Depending on the function or dysfuction of the family you grew up with setting boundaries may be easy or...not. If you are taught one thing your entire life it would make sense that you wouldn’t think to question it. This is a common occurrence that isn’t usually addressed until it’s too late and you’re feeling emotional, physical, or mental burn out from the lack of boundaries.

A common fear when setting boundaries with family is the potential to harm family members or damage relationships. Setting and upholding boundaries can be nerve wracking if you are worried about hurting someone you care about. It is important to keep in mind that you can be kind AND firm at the same time. Setting boundaries is not meant to hurt anyone, it is meant to protect you.

Tips to Successfully Set Boundaries With Family

1. Know Your Limits

In order to set boundaries you need to first understand what your limits are. Before telling someone “please don’t cross this line” you need to know where the line is. One way to learn your limits is to notice your feelings and think about what is triggering them. If you notice you are anxious every time a family member shows up to your house uninvited, that could be a limit that you need to set a boundary for.

2. View Your Boundaries as a Positive

It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling guilty for setting boundaries. It is important to understand that boundaries are a positive thing that will lead to healthier relationships and a happier you. This could look like “I’m really happy we are finally discussing boundaries. I think it will improve our relationship and help me to live a healthier life.”

3. Be Kind and Firm at the Same Time

Some individuals view boundaries as disrespect and may feel the need to test the boundaries or push back on them. In these cases remember that you can be kind AND firm at the same time. A phrase that may be helpful is “Thank you for respecting my boundary and __________.” Fill in the blank with whatever boundary you have set. This reminds your family members that you are grateful that they are respecting your boundaries and that you will not adjust the set boundaries or allow anyone to cross those boundaries.

4. Seek Therapy

Setting boundaries can be difficult and sometimes scary. Having a therapist to help you through the journey will make the process much easier and feel a lot less scary. Having a third party to talk to about the boundaries you want to set and the way they are being received will give you an extra sense of confidence that you are making the right choice.

Now go out there and set your boundaries!

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