Anytime you have family you have a little dysfunction. It's common that every family has their quarks and issues. No one is perfect and when you mix a lot of different people together it doesn't always go smoothly. But what if the problems within a family go much deeper than a difference of personality, what if the behavior and actions are destructive to the well being of your family: you, your husband, and children...what then? The problem that many face is that there are so many lines that are crossed, it's hard to know what's the last straw, especially when you are talking about ending a relationship with family. The lines get blurred, emotions are high, and at times it can be difficult to assess if you are acting out of emotion or making a rational decision. But no matter how you chalk it up you and your spouse come to the conclusion that you need to set up some boundaries. But what are boundaries and how do you go about establishing them?
Boundaries essentially are your personal property line that makes things which you are responsible for. You are responsible for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well being. You know what makes you who you are and what you are comfortable with. Boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances -- Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions -- Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others -- Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish our beliefs, how we choose to worship, and what we consider to be the difference between our needs and Gods. Establishing these boundaries for ourselves is essential to have any type of healthy relationship. But what happens when loved ones and people are mowing over your boundaries? Should you say something? This is where for most of us we find ourselves in a mental debate...what will happen if I do? And ultimately very few of us like confrontation and conflict. But, it is important for you to speak up and defend your boundaries. Here is why...
Setting and communicating our personal boundaries to others allows us to protect ourselves. They allow us to separate who we are as unique individuals, including our thoughts and feelings, from others. They prohibit other people from manipulating, abusing, or using us. Boundaries allow us to preserve our individual integrity. Telling a loved one, your in-laws, your family or friend that certain behaviors aren't tolerated isn't wrong to do. It's necessary to have a healthy relationship. Asking someone a question like, "What would you tell a friend who came to you with this problem in their relationship?" and allowing the other person to answer the question can set up the conversation better than "You did this and it hurt me!" It allows the person to process the situation first and come the conclusion of what is right on their own. You can then easily address how you would like to be treated in the same situation. There's nothing wrong with asking for someone to show you respect, it's all about how you ask, how you are communicating, and if you are attacking them. If you approach the situation well, it will be heard and the message will be received. The problem is that not every person that's told "no" or whom you will set boundaries with is going to welcome them with open arms. In fact, some of them will turn away from you. This is where my family and I find ourselves today.
We decided three years ago to finally address a situation that had gotten so out of control that something had to be done. We had made the mistake of allowing these people to believe that it was acceptable to slander us openly, disrespect us and our children to our face, misrepresent the truth to others, and walk all over us...because we deeply desired a relationship with them because they were family. We walked on egg shells for 10 years. Literally afraid that the simple act of being late, a birthday missed /late gift, or a church service not attended would incite tongue wagging, eye rolling, public slander sessions, and rude behavior at the next gathering or public/church event. It was complete misery. All we asked was to be treated the way they want us to treat them: with respect. It wasn't one year later and we found ourselves in another situation. But we knew we had set up boundaries, we didn't feel that they needed to be confronted again, and we stepped back from them. We didn't make an effort to call them, see them, but we did still invite them to family gatherings, the kids activities, and celebrations. But other than that, there was no other involvement. Things came to a head when their disrespect for us turned to the kids. They handed out best friend necklaces to two out of the four kids present, and ours were the ones without the necklaces, and one of them chose to yell and shame one of our daughters in a group after she said "stupid" to the point of tears. Our kids were really hurt. They were having a hard time understanding why two cousins were best friends and why they didn't like them too? And my daughter asked me why she was yelled at in front of everyone, why didn't this person just talk to her? It had just been an accident? How do you really answer those questions honestly? Nightmare situation as a parent and the anguish, alienation, and shame the kids felt was heartbreaking. You could see it in their eyes and the way their mouths hung and were quivering as they spoke...
The second boundary discussion occurred. We pulled away, inviting family ONLY to major events; dance recitals, school functions, birthdays, and holidays. Our child's birthday came and no presents or phone calls came, but six months later a family member visited dance class. She told our daughter lies. She told her she wasn't invited to her birthday, we weren't returning calls to allow our children to play, and it was up to our 7 year old to have a relationship with her. She was to call her. All of this was done in the lobby of a dance class.
I sat out of respect for my elders, silent, not saying a word, and knew I'd address this privately with my daughter and when I calmed down with the family member. By the time we got to the car my child was hysterically crying and yelling at me "WHY?! Why are you doing this?!" After class I had to print out emails, pull out phone bills, and show our daughter text messages where birthday invites and returned call had been made. She asked, "why did she say that then?" I didn't know how to answer that really..because I simply have no clue why. Who knows why adults act like this? To be mean, to hurt me, to send my husband and I a message, ignorance, or maybe it was done to them? I don't know the why, I just know it's immature, harmful, and will never happen again. And that's when as a mom and parent you know EXACTLY where the line is drawn. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! NO more of this was going to be tolerated, no relationship was worth sacrificing the mental well being of your children. So the third "boundaries" conversation took place after this event. As a result, the people pulled away from us. Our kids received no birthday phone calls, we get texts for holidays wishing us happy's and merry's, and essentially have no contact with them at all..unless of course we get a text asking us to give them something we own, like a RC car we have that they want to give their kids. The family therapists, counselors we have seen told us that in setting boundaries in situations like this can cause the "offenders" to flee. In the end, that's exactly what happened. Their reaction was that we set boundaries they didn't think we deserved to have met and they didn't feel "respected" that we were telling them that they had to. So these types of people deem you're the problem, lie to others about why you're not around at family events, and walk away feeling justified. Funny really, ironic, and sad. But freeing for us in the end.
Although you can look at the situation as say that the consequence of setting boundaries resulted in an end of a relationship...the way we have looked at it is that we desired to have a healthy relationship with them and they didn't want to change. I'm not going to lie, it was hard to know that this was where it was going to go after years of trying and caring. But the truth is, after some time away from it you find yourself at peace. You know you stood for what was right and healthy, you respected yourself and did what was best for your family, and you're thankful that you no longer are putting your family at risk for depression, anxiety, and other self-esteem related issues to say you hung on to an unhealthy relationship. In the end, this holiday has been peaceful, loving, kind, and relaxing....there have been no tears, just smiles, and lots of fun! This holiday we got a text wishing us a "Merry Christmas" and we did just that...we had a "Merry Christmas!" What a true gift that was this year.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? What happened when you set boundaries?
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