Setting boundaries with family can be complicated for many people. It would be in your best interest if you weren’t one of those people.
With the help of Dr Fanike-Kiara Young, LCSW, I’ve put together this six-step guide to jump-start your boundary-setting journey.
If you’re unsure how to set boundaries with your loved ones, keep reading.
1. Get clear on why you struggle to set boundaries with family
“A lot of times, especially in black and brown families, there is an expectation that you will always take care of everyone in the family,” explains Dr Fanike. “If you are that person that “makes it”, that person who goes to school or gets a great job and makes a decent salary, often it’s expected that you will be the person to help others out.”
Dr Fanike notes that this expectation can be a cultural one and that it can become internalised. When this happens, you start to put pressure on yourself to fulfil that expectation of being the one who does well so that you can take care of the family. And while it may seem well enough intentioned, it can be physically and emotionally draining.
You might also struggle to set boundaries with family, particularly elder relatives, because you grew up in a culture that heavily emphasises respecting your elders. So, setting a boundary with an elder could be viewed as disrespectful.
“We can be taught to have respect for elders and our parents and also be taught to stand up for ourselves. We can also be taught self-advocation and how to express our needs and our feelings in a respectful way.”
Your reasons for struggling to set boundaries might be similar to what Dr Fanike mentioned above, or maybe because you worry about hurting their feelings or something entirely different.
2. Consider the things you’ve been silent about
“We don’t consider that the actions and the lessons that are taught in childhood eventually become the thing that influences how an adult responds in adulthood. If a person feels like they were never able to be heard throughout their childhood, that can cause them to shut down. It can cause that person not to be able to communicate healthily in adult relationships. Because of that, we then have a lot of adults who grow up and don’t necessarily have the skills they need to succeed beyond just getting a job. You have to know how to interact with people. You must know how to care for yourself and prioritise your wellness needs. That’s important and not knowing how to do those things shows up in many different ways.”
3. Write down your overlooked boundaries
“Figure out where your resources, like money and time, are going. Are they going to things you love or to someone else? Also, look at your relationships so you can determine whether or not they’re reciprocal or if they’re one-sided. Are you constantly giving more than you have and leaving yourself depleted?”