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Tips for Establishing Boundaries With Toxic Family Members

The holidays bring an uptick in time spent with family members. For some people, extra socializing with family can bring joyful interactions. And for others, the thought of stepping into a space with family members can trigger a sense of dread and nervousness.

Being in a relationship with toxic individuals can lead to poor self-esteem, confidence crises, the feeling we’ll never be enough, and other limiting beliefs. And without healthy boundaries, we begin to compare ourselves to others and put our wants and needs on the back burner.

For example, in emotionally abusive relationships, adult children of toxic parents might blame themselves or be guilted into caring for their parents because they are sick or old. What tends to happen is the adult child repeatedly puts themselves in the line of fire out of duty because this person is their parent.

Women especially fall into this people-pleasing role easily as generally, our nature is to be nurturing and giving.

While it is possible to live without boundaries for a while, eventually, you’re going to feel:

  • like you don’t even know who you are,

  • constantly exhausted from tending to everyone else’s needs,

  • taken advantage of,

  • snippy, annoyed, and resentful.

If you’re ready to make a change and establish boundaries in your life, start by asking yourself,

  • Who am I?

  • What do I want?

  • What do I need?

  • What behavior is okay and what is not when I’m interacting with my family?

Journaling can be beneficial in getting your thoughts out and organized. Start by writing down:

“My life is my own, I deserve the life I want, and I only have one life to live.”

If you need help sorting out your thoughts, work with a therapist well-versed in trauma issues and dysfunctional families and relationships. I’ve had my own experiences with emotional abuse in adult relationships and found a therapist who helped me see myself with compassion in order to overcome the fear of standing up for myself and worrying about what others would say about my choices.

If you’re scared to implement boundaries, start small. This could be in the form of silencing your phone between certain hours, and not responding when you’re busy, like when you’re at work.

If you’re ready to establish a firm boundary, let the toxic person know what behavior is okay with you and what the consequences will be for inappropriate behavior.

For example, “If you call me names or use put-downs, I will be hanging the phone up. If you criticize me in my own home, you won’t be invited back.”

If it’s too hard to confront the person, then a complete break may be necessary to save yourself and your peace.

If the people in your life push back and respond negatively to your efforts to put healthy boundaries in place, it’s possible they won’t change. Be clear in your wants and needs, and be direct and consistent. I often see a big boost in confidence from my clients after they make small changes and stand up for themselves. Once you start, it becomes so much easier to continue.

Remember, it’s never too late to start building your confidence and establish boundaries.

Not sure if you have a toxic person in your life? Here are six questions to ask yourself and help determine if you have family members who are oppressive and unhealthy:

Q1: Do they criticize me?

Example: They say, “I see someone has been getting a lot of extra helpings of food lately.”

Q2: Do I leave interactions with them feeling worse about myself or the situation?

Example: I say to myself, “I must be a loser since even he can get a good job and I couldn’t finish college.”

Q3: Do they try to control me or make decisions for me?

Example: A parent manipulating you with money or threatening to disown you if you don’t cooperate.

Q4: Do they always look at the negative side of things?

Example: “Well, why would you want to get a job doing that? You’ll never be able to pay your bills.”

Q5: Do they seem to feel better about themselves by putting me down?

Example: Laughing and spreading negativity among a crowd during family get-togethers.

They don’t want attention on them and their problems.

Q6: Am I making this up?

Run your thoughts by a trusted friend or another family member to help you validate what you’re feeling and experiencing. A trusted person in your life is going to be honest and feel upset and/or offended when someone treats you poorly.

While setting boundaries can be incredibly difficult, the rewards are endless and can include greater self-awareness, a boost in self-esteem, empowerment, and self-respect.


About the Author: Robin Kulesza is an EMDR-certified and brainspotting therapist in Illinois, Texas, and Florida.

Specializing in helping successful, midlife, professional women find clarity, peace, and a renewed sense of purpose, Robin focuses on helping you with unresolved trauma, PTSD, midlife transitions, self-concept, and emotional regulation.

For more information about Robin and her practice Reimagine Her in Bartlett, Illinois, and how to get support, visit her website or follow Reimagine Her on Instagram or Facebook.


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