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The people closest to us are the ones who can hurt us the most. That is why you have to learn to set boundaries with family members. I know that is hard because I have done it. We all have at least one toxic family member who puts us off the deep end. These are the people who cross the line when it comes to invading your privacy, gaslighting, wanting to control you, and lacking regard for your emotional well-being. 

You must protect yourself because no one is more important than you. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries with family members because someone else can’t keep their toxic behavior in check. When you have family members who are toxic it can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. The difficulty of navigating family dynamics is real. However, you have to take control of the situation for your own well-being. 

When setting boundaries with family members you have to be clear about your boundaries and explain them. In order for boundaries to be effective, they must have consequences you are willing to follow through on. You can’t be afraid of the repercussions because you have to protect your peace and your mental health. Avoid blaming them and their behavior keep the focus on you and what you need in order to have a healthy relationship with them. 

How to Set Boundaries with Family

discussion about setting boundaries with family

Value yourself and your time.

You deserve to be treated well because you are important. If the people around you don’t respect and appreciate you then you need to ask yourself whether you actually want to spend time with them. You are in control of the situation so you get to choose who you spend your time with. Surround yourself with people who build you up instead of constantly tearing you down. 

When you value yourself you know your worth if your family members can’t recognize that just know that people don’t have to be blood to be family. This is about respecting you as a person not who they want you to be. Setting boundaries with family is a form of self-love and respect. There is no shame in wanting to be valued, but you have to set the tone.

Give yourself permission to do what’s best for you.

How you choose to live your life is up to you. If you know that going to a family event where a toxic family member is going to be you can choose to not put yourself in that situation. It is okay to skip the bullying party. Give yourself permission to do what is best for you. I know what you are thinking, but if I don’t go the family is going to talk. 

Let them talk, They were going to talk about you regardless if you are there or not. You don’t have to subject yourself to people belittling you at a family event because you feel obligated to go. When you get invited to go to a family event pause and ask yourself am I going to have a good time? If the answer is no then you do what is best for you.

Know your triggers and anticipate them. 

It is important to know your triggers, that way you can anticipate them. Everyone has different things that trigger them. It can range from watching family members enable and coddle toxic people to your aunt talking about you in hushed tones. As annoying and rude as that can be you have to stay one step ahead of your triggers. The way you do this is to know your triggers ahead of time. 

  • What are your triggers?
  • What emotions arise?
  • How can you best take care of yourself?
  • How do you plan to respond?

Having a strategy in place when you have to come in contact with difficult family members helps you to handle their bad behavior better.

Be clear about your needs and communicate them. 

You need to be clear when setting boundaries with family. Identify your needs in advance before having the conversation. You may not want to spend the holidays with your family and that is okay. This is your life and your time so spend it how you want it. Once you have identified your limits, communicate them clearly. Communication is key to any relationship and being honest and clear about your boundaries with family members is crucial to what kind of relationship you have with them.

Practice saying “no”.

Are you a people pleaser? If you are then buckle up because it is time to talk about saying “no”. It is ok to say “no” but you can’t leave room for them to think that it will turn into a “yes”. When setting boundaries with family or anyone you have to be firm so if they want you to come over or go out and you don’t want to you can’t say “maybe later”. That is what is considered a soft “no” because it leaves room for them to ask again and again until you cave. 

Now a hard “no” sounds something like “Sorry I already have plans” or “Please stop talking to me like that or I am leaving”. You have to start practicing because by saying hard “no’s” you are creating boundaries. It may not always be comfortable, but it is necessary in order to create a healthy relationship. 

Stress of setting boundaries with family

Make a list of coping strategies.

You need to be ready for the stress. So, do whatever relaxes you before and after encountering toxic family members. This is about you and your needs so here are some ideas you can use to help you cope.

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a bath
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Vent to a friend
  • Talk to a therapist
  • Workout
  • Get a massage
  • Bring a friend with you

Don’t engage in family gossip

Gossip is the biggest thing in every family. They love to gossip, but you know who likes to talk the most smack? The toxic family member that has nothing better to do. They thrive on gossip. Don’t feed into the hype when it comes to family gossip because it just leads into a whole lot of drama that you don’t want to deal with. If the gossip is about you don’t react and know you can’t control what other people think or say. 

I am also going to suggest you don’t say anything that you don’t want to get back to the person you are gossiping about. The reason you shouldn’t do this is that someone is going to repeat it eventually. I have a family that used to love to gossip, but what I learned from watching it from the sidelines is it usually turns into the worst game of telephone ever. By the time the gossip gets back to the person it was about in the first place, it turns into a whole different story than what was actually said. 

It’s okay to ask for privacy

Your business is your business. Let me say it again your business is your business. You have a right to ask for privacy your family doesn’t need to know every aspect of your life. They don’t need to know if you are dating, when you are going to have kids. or when you’re going to get married. That is your business, not theirs. If you don’t want to answer the question you don’t have to. What you do on your own time is on you and in no way do they have the right to know. It might not be easy, but it must be done when creating boundaries with family.

Ask the family member to define what kind of relationship they want to have

This is a tough one because it involves calling them out on their shit. When discussing boundaries you need to find out what kind of relationship they want to have with you. This can lead to them getting defensive or angry, but you have to stay strong. In order to have a healthy loving relationship, the other person needs to want that too. They are going to ask what that means and the answer is very simple. If they want to have a good relationship with you or a toxic relationship with you. 

That decision is up to them and you have no control over what they want. What you do have control over is how much that person will be in your life. You can’t control their actions, you can only control yours. Keep that in mind when having this conversation. 

You have the right to block toxic relatives on social media

All because you are family doesn’t mean you have to be exposed to their toxic behavior on social media. If you don’t like their feed that is filled with things that make you uncomfortable you have the right to block them. We take in millions of pieces of information a day and if their posts don’t resonate with you or make you feel good then don’t follow them. 

If you are feeling attacked or belittled because that is the only way they can make sure you see it then block them. You are in no way obligated to follow or be friends with a family member on social media. 

Be willing to walk away

You do have to option to get up and walk away from a toxic conversation or situation. Many family members don’t think that you will do it and are usually shocked when you do. Although you may feel like you have to sit there and take it or defend yourself you don’t. 

This is a skill I have mastered over the years. Whenever someone in my family crosses my boundaries they know because I get really quiet. I let them make a complete ass out of themselves and just say “did that make you feel better” then get up and walk away. I say it calmly because it forces them to slow down and get off that self-made pedestal to hear what I am saying.

phone call with toxic family member

Be firm, but kind

When you are creating boundaries you don’t have to be demanding. Actually, I found that when you approach challenging family members with kindness it goes smoother. If you go out at it like a wrecking ball filled with anger and resentment it leads them to lash out at you. Staying calm and approaching it with kindness makes for an easier conversation. 

Keep realistic expectations

You need to know your limits. You have to keep your expectations realistic so when you go to Thanksgiving dinner knowing that they are just going to belittle you you know what to expect. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to sit through it an entire night. Decide how much time is tolerable for you to sit with the person who doesn’t respect you and your boundaries.

The best thing to do is to not expect people to act or do what you would do. This is just setting yourself up for disappointment. You can’t control what other people do, but you can keep your expectations realistic when having to be around toxic family members. For example, if you know that someone is looking to argue for no reason you can choose to not engage or react. I found the less you engage the more stupid the other person looks.

Learn to be assertive

Being passive aggressive or dropping hints about boundaries isn’t going to cut it. You have to be assertive about what is okay and what is not okay. Being clear so people understand your boundaries and why you are setting them will get a better result in the long run. When you flip flop on your boundaries it can create confusion so be sure to be explicit when talking about boundaries. 

You want to know why toxic people get away with being toxic. It’s because no one stands up to them. Once you start to speak up for yourself and your expectations they tend to back off. When you are assertive you turn into the person that is respected instead of the one that is bullied.

Take care of yourself 

I can not stress this enough. When you take care of yourself you create mindfulness which gives you a clear picture of who you are and how you want to be treated. If you want time to yourself then take time for yourself. In order to have a healthy relationship with anyone, you have to take care of yourself first. 

The reason self care is so important is that it helps you learn your boundaries. It also gives you a better chance of sticking to those set boundaries with family members. Now I am not saying to become a hermit and only care about yourself, but taking some time for just you occasionally helps create self awareness.

Final Thoughts:

Setting boundaries with family members is not about cutting them out. It is about respecting one another’s limits. It took me a long time to figure out how to create boundaries with family members who were toxic in my life. You have to know the difference between someone who is genuinely concerned for your well-being and someone who is trying to tear you down and make you feel less than. It’s okay for family members to want what is best for you, but there is a fine line between concern and being overbearing. You make that line by setting boundaries.

If you are dealing with a toxic family member and want a clear way to plan out how you are going to set boundaries. My favorite motivational speaker Mel Robbins created a boundaries toolkit. This has helped me so much when it comes to setting boundaries and I hope it helps you too.

The Mel Robbins Boundaries Toolkit 


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