Whether they’re in-laws, siblings or extended blood relatives, difficult family members can take a toll on your mental health and overall peace of mind.
It’s normal to find family challenging and even occasionally frustrating. However, if you have a particularly difficult family member, it’s important to put healthy boundaries in place to protect your mental health and well-being. Establishing these boundaries is always much easier said than done, so here are 10 ways to set boundaries with difficult family members, along with a few strategies for implementing those boundaries to help get you started.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Before diving into the 10 ways to set boundaries with difficult family members, it’s important to understand what healthy boundaries are. Healthy boundaries are essential to any of your relationships, whether you’re dealing with coworkers, friends or family. Setting boundaries for what you consider acceptable conduct is vital to your mental and personal health.
Healthy boundaries start by identifying the behaviors, characteristics and actions that make you comfortable versus those that make you uncomfortable. If a family member’s invasive, rude or careless behavior and actions are causing you mental anguish or anxiety, it’s time to put some healthy boundaries in place.
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Some of the benefits to setting healthy boundaries with family members include:
- Maintaining your self-care and self-respect.
- Communicating your needs in a relationship.
- Making time and room in your life for positive interactions.
Relationships with family members are often ones that people value the most. Having boundaries in place to enable a healthy familial relationship is vital to your overall mental and emotional well-being.
Types of Boundaries
While setting healthy boundaries can help you build a stronger relationship, it’s important to understand the different types of boundaries.
For example, your needs for a safe personal space and for others who validate your ideas and life goals are distinct types of healthy boundaries. Though each situation is unique, dealing with difficult family members often calls for setting one or more of these types of boundaries:
- Physical boundaries: These include your comfort with people touching you or sharing your personal space as well as your physical needs to eat, sleep or rest and drink.
- Emotional boundaries: These relate to your personal emotional needs, such as sharing feelings, picking up on your energy and sharing intimate details of your life.
- Time boundaries: These boundaries refer to prioritizing your time. Establishing these boundaries communicates your need for others to understand your personal time restraints and respect your use of time.
- Sexual boundaries: These include your boundaries regarding personal consent, desire and privacy. Establishing respected boundaries around sex and intimacy is essential for a healthy partnership.
- Intellectual boundaries: These boundaries include the way others accept and validate your thoughts, ideas and curiosities.
- Material boundaries: These boundaries include your personal belongings and property such as your car, house and personal items.
Which boundaries you establish with which people will depend on your relationship and your needs. When you’ve identified your boundaries, the next step is learning how to enforce them. Dealing with difficult family members involves finding healthy ways to respond if they overstep one or all of these types of boundaries.
10 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries With Family Members
Once you have a firm understanding of what boundaries are and the types of boundaries you may have to put in place, it’s time to learn how to do so. Consider these 10 ways to set boundaries with difficult family members.
1. Put Your Needs First
Setting healthy boundaries starts with considering your personal needs and putting them first. Ask yourself what you need from yourself and others to identify which boundaries you need to establish. Taking your own needs into consideration and putting those needs above the needs and wants of others is a great way to get started setting your boundaries with difficult family members.
People who deal with difficult family members frequently find that they’re ignoring their personal needs in favor of their family’s. Whether you have to eat or sleep or just need some time to yourself, you must put those necessities first before addressing the needs of others. Remember, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. Putting yourself first is a great place to start when determining which boundaries you should put in place.
2. Value Your Time and Ask Others To Do the Same
One thing we can all wish we had more of is time. Setting boundaries on your time can be challenging when dealing with family members who expect to monopolize it. If you feel like your family members don’t value your time in the same way they value their own, you’ll need to set your boundaries and expectations as soon as possible.
One way to minimize conflicts and promote communication with family members is to express your needs and the firmness of your decisions clearly. Whether you have a prior commitment during a family gathering or can only attend an event until a certain time, setting clear boundaries on your time helps you build understanding with your family members.
Often, challenging or difficult family members are entirely focused on their own needs and priorities and are oblivious to other people’s time constraints. Regardless of their reasons, set your time boundaries by clearly expressing the importance, value and respect you give to your time and explaining that you expect the same from them. If they continue to prioritize their needs over yours, plainly state your need to focus on other priorities and retake control of the situation using a direct approach.
3. Take a Direct and Kind Approach
Understanding how to set boundaries with siblings or other difficult family members starts with a kind yet direct approach. It’s important to directly express your concerns, perspective and desire to set healthy boundaries whenever possible. Focus on being kind and understanding while remaining firm in your decisions when setting boundaries with family and communicating expectations for how you want them to treat you.
If you’re nervous or uncertain about taking a direct approach, consider practicing what you want to say. Test out what you want to say in the mirror or with a trusted friend before having a face-to-face conversation with your family member. When you take a simple, direct approach, you may be surprised at your family member’s understanding and appreciation for your honesty.
4. Set Realistic Expectations for Relationships
It’s essential to set realistic expectations for your relationships with your family members. While anyone is capable of change, it’s important to recognize how much of an effort they’re likely to make before discussing your boundaries with them.
Setting realistic expectations for your relationships is a necessary part of maintaining your well-being. People engaging in toxic behavior are often resistant to change. If a difficult family member consistently oversteps your boundaries, would clearer communication help, or are they likely to continue their behavior regardless of what you say?
Set realistic expectations for your relationships, accept your difficult family members as they are and be prepared to follow through on consequences if they ignore your boundaries. By doing this, you’ll lessen the impact their toxic behavior has on you and your emotional or mental well-being.
5. Avoid Engaging in Family Gossip
Gossiping with family members almost always leads to conflict and feelings of resentment. One of the best ways to set boundaries with difficult family members is to ignore family gossip regardless of the circumstances.
Many times, setting healthy boundaries starts with removing yourself from toxic situations. Removing yourself from the family gossip circle also means removing yourself from family conflict and drama. When you stay out of family gossip, it’s easier to avoid family conflicts and other drama counterproductive to your mental and emotional health.
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6. Avoid Social Media
Avoiding social media is closely related to avoiding family gossip and drama and a great way to remove yourself from family gossip and other conflicts.
If you’re experiencing issues with family members, avoiding compromising situations is a great way to start setting healthy boundaries, and reducing your time on social media is an easy first step. When difficult family members are actively engaging in conflict online, taking a break from social media can help reinforce your boundaries for yourself while removing you from family conflicts or other drama.
7. Learn To Say “No”
The word “no” is liberating and empowering, especially when you’re establishing boundaries and setting expectations for others. Learning to say no will save you from numerous heartaches in life, especially when dealing with difficult family members.
If you’re a natural people-pleaser with a giving, generous and kind-hearted disposition, saying no can be extremely challenging in the beginning. However, while saying no to family members takes practice, it gets easier over time. Though you’ll likely catch difficult family members off guard when you first start saying no to requests, this is a great way to start setting healthy boundaries.
Saying yes when you really want to say no impacts your self-esteem and self-respect and can eventually lead to conflict and resentment. Those feelings can be more significant hazards to your relationships than saying no to a request. Expect your family members to respect your decisions when you say no. If they continue to ignore your boundaries, it might be time to reconsider your relationship.
8. Talk It Out
If your situation allows for discussion, talking about your issues and expressing your wishes are excellent first steps in setting healthy boundaries. Carve out a time to sit down and have an open conversation. Sometimes, difficult family members have a different view of their behaviors and actions and may be unaware of their impact. Taking an afternoon to sit down and discuss your feelings with that person can go a long way to helping your relationship overall.
If you clearly and calmly explain your stance regarding their behavior and their behavior stays the same, you may need to consider more drastic measures for enforcing your boundaries with this person.
9. Identify and Eliminate or Avoid Triggers
Learning how to set boundaries with difficult family members starts with a self-evaluation and a clear understanding of your values and beliefs. Setting healthy boundaries for dealing with toxic situations can mean identifying, avoiding and eliminating triggers such as behavior-altering substances, inappropriate topics of conversation and points of contention that lead to conflict with your family members.
Your difficult family members may have specific triggers that spark unacceptable behaviors. Identifying those triggers can help you reduce your exposure to those family members when their triggers are in play. For example, if a family member is more likely to overstep boundaries when drinking alcohol, you might consider alcohol-free holidays, events and family gatherings.
Likewise, it’s important to identify your own triggers and recognize the best ways to avoid or eliminate them. For example, if talking about politics triggers conflict, learn to recognize moments when the conversation is shifting toward politically centered topics. Take a time-out from the conversation by excusing yourself or going into another room.
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10. Learn To Walk Away
One of the best ways to set healthy boundaries is learning to walk away when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
Knowing when to walk away will help you set healthy boundaries with yourself as well as with difficult family members. Managing boundaries and avoiding conflicts with difficult family members helps you conserve your mental and emotional energy. Setting boundaries is about understanding your limits — walking away means you’ve reached your limit for a behavior or action.
Walking away is particularly helpful if your family’s behavior ever makes you angry enough to lose your temper and blow up at them. When you find yourself starting to get angry or experience anxiety, walking away can be the best form of self-care.
Walking away means physically removing yourself, providing you with instant relief from the tension associated with escalating family conflicts or uncomfortable topics of conversation. It’s okay to simply get up and walk away if you need to do so to preserve your boundaries.
Find Support for Setting Healthy Boundaries at Taylor Counseling Group
If you’re struggling to set healthy boundaries and wondering where to start, professional counseling and support can help get you on track. Taylor Counseling Group offers family therapy and counseling designed to help you overcome the challenges of dealing with toxic and difficult family members.
With offices conveniently located around Texas, Taylor Counseling Group offers affordable counseling and support services designed to empower you with the skills you need to establish healthy boundaries and forge meaningful relationships with your loved ones.
Contact the professionals at Taylor Counseling Group for support with setting healthy boundaries and regaining control of your mental and emotional well-being. Schedule an appointment online any time of day or night using our client portal, or reach out to us by calling (214) 530-0021 to get started with therapy and counseling services.