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  • Johanna Lynn

The Delicate Dance of Cultivating Healthy Boundaries in Your Family

Do you ever feel drained after a family gathering? 

Are there times when you feel like your family walks all over you? 

Do you feel guilty about dreading the next family get together? 

Tired of family gatherings feeling like a chore? 

Healthy boundaries are the secret ingredient to creating a stress-free, enjoyable time with your family.

Maybe you're wondering, where would I even start in creating healthy boundaries with my family ? 

Think about fences, lines in the sand, or bottom lines ….healthy boundaries are similar. They're internal markers that signal when something feels off or you’ve reached the edge of your boundary, that point where you can no longer be yourself.

Maybe you start responding in ways that no longer feel like you, being overly nice, agreeing to do something that you really don't want to do, nodding along but inside you can’t wait for the conversation to end.

Perhaps you feel defensive with a family member where you previously felt walked all over so everything is an automatic no.

The key is being honest with yourself at any given moment. Noticing if your inside voice is saying something like “I don't like what is happening but I'm also not saying anything”

Take a moment to reflect: do you have any such markers, limits, or ‘stop signs’ in the boundaries you express in your family relationships?

Tuning into Your Body's Boundary Cues

Imagine your boundaries as an internal alarm system. When someone crosses a line, your body often sends warning signals – a tightness in your chest, clenched fists, a knot in your stomach. These are all signals that you're about to compromise yourself. Learn to recognize these cues, so they can be your guide to creating healthy boundaries.

Check in with yourself: notice are you feeling overly nice or stuck in your defenses? 

Do you have a sudden urge to flee the conversation? 

These might be signs you're about to go over your own personal limits.

Don't ignore these boundary cues. Instead, let them be your guide. 

Take a deep breath, and before resentment builds, use "I" statements to communicate your needs. 

For example, "Mom, I know you love the kids and that’s where this is coming from. Honestly, I feel uncomfortable when you criticize my parenting choices - especially in front of the kids. I appreciate your concern and I’m handling this, in the way that I feel is right."

Setting boundaries, especially with family, can be emotionally draining. Here are some practical tips to make boundary setting easier:

- Be sure to make self-care a priority.

- Arrive for the family visit well rested.

- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing.

- Spend time in nature, or engage in activities that bring you joy.

A well-rested and centered you is better equipped to navigate family dynamics while practicing your healthy boundaries.

When faced with a request that pushes your boundaries, give yourself space to reflect. A simple, "Let me get back to you on that" allows your internal boundary cues to share a clear yes or no within you, giving you time to make a body-informed decision. A decision you can follow through on, instead of regretting your answer and having to drag yourself through it later on.

I’ve had many clients ask me over the years, “what can I do when my mom or  sister–in-law refuses to respect my boundaries?”

Boundaries aren’t ever about the other person, they come from inside of you. If a family member has a challenging time honoring your boundaries, you may simply need to state them again, clearly and calmly.

Truth is if you’re not used to clear communication in your family, you may set the boundary at the breaking point, at a time where you are frustrated and pushed over your internal limit.

This typically isn’t setting a boundary but instead a reaction to a boundary being crossed. In angry tones or if blame comes up, the other person will likely have a hard time receiving the important points you are trying to express. Healthy boundaries are best set when we are calm, collected and clear about what you’d like to express.

Communicating boundaries, especially with family, can trigger all kinds of different emotions. If you find yourself caught in the heat of the moment, try saying "I need to revisit this conversation once I've had time to reset."

When you are ready to return to the conversation, follow through by discussing your perspective calmly, using I statements.

The truth is, setting boundaries with family can feel like hard work initially. But the payoff is significant.

Clear boundaries offer reduced stress, improved communication, and a deeper sense of love and respect within yourself and in your relationships.  So, take a deep breath, prioritize your well-being, and embrace the steps for creating healthy boundaries. 

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