“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you” (n.d.).”
Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial part of establishing your identity, maintaining good mental health, self-care, and overall well-being. If you are not used to setting boundaries, you might feel guilty or selfish (Selve, 2021). It may be quite uncomfortable, but the more you practice this the easier it will get.
Setting boundaries can apply to many different relationships. This can include family members, friends, co-workers, managers. During the holidays, many of us face the need to set boundaries, particularly with toxic family members. This can be extremely difficult being that these patterns and behaviors may be deeply entrenched in family dynamics. When you need to set boundaries, you may also experience fear of losing family members.
Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have no control over their toxic life environment; having grown up with multiple emotional scars caused by repeated trauma and pain from their parents’ actions, words, and attitudes. This may alter their individual emotional growth and self-identity. Eventually this dysfunction may become harmful and continue into adulthood. Victimized adults can attempt to escape their past pain through self-destructive behaviors and enter similar toxic relationships. These adults may experience feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, or fear of abandonment without realizing the reasons behind their feelings. They may report difficulties in forming and sustaining healthy relationships, maintaining positive self-esteem, struggling in trusting others, fear loss of control, and denying their own feelings (Ubaidi, 2017). The good news is now we do have control over our environment and the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves. As we grow and heal, we can start identifying toxic people in our lives and make changes to support our well-being.
As pointed out by Reed (2021), some characteristics of toxic people include:
- Acting harsh and critical.
- Not showing concern for your feelings, needs, or rights.
- Calling you derogatory names.
- Consistently violating your boundaries.
- Refusing to compromise with you on anything.
- Acting entitled.
- Always having to be right.
- Making unfair demands on you.
- Not taking responsibility for their actions /blaming others.
- Rarely saying they’re sorry for something they have done.
- Extreme mood swings, including rage.
- Guilting or lying to get their way.
- Manipulating or taking advantage of you to get to control and to get what they want.
Also noted by Reed (2021), some possible ways you can go about setting your boundaries include:
- Directly stating your feelings and needs, such as “please do not talk to me this way, it hurts my feelings, and I will not continue spending time with you unless something changes.”
- Stay emotionally distant and limit how much you share such as stating “I would rather not discuss this.”
- Try not to get involved in arguments. Toxic people will try to draw you into an argument and will often turn things around on you rather than taking responsibility for their behavior.
- Sometimes you may need to limit or completely end contact with a toxic person to take care of yourself.
As suggested by Anter & Supportiv (2021) and Ubaidi (2017), there are ways you can care of yourself when dealing with toxic people:
- Limit your time spent with toxic family members.
- Talking with friends you trust.
- Role-play to practice setting boundaries and stating your feelings and needs.
- Recognize how you are affected by toxic people (i.e. feeling of anxiety or fear) and find ways to stay regulated (deep breathing, meditation, journaling, etc.).
- Become aware of your reactions and break negative patterns.
- Accept the limitations and lack of awareness of your family members.
- Learn to identify and express emotions by accepting your own feelings without judgement.
- Try to use productive and healthy ways to vent your anger (art, sports, exercises) rather than self- destructive ways.
- Avoid feelings of shame or guilt when setting boundaries.
- Take responsibility for your happiness and well-being rather than wait for others to give it to you.
- Read educational books that provide strategies for recovering from dysfunctional family effects.
- Talk with a counselor or other professional who can give you guidance.
Resilient Retreat is here to support you. We have many programs and support groups focused on self-care such as trauma-informed yoga, mindfulness meditation, therapeutic art/movement/writing, empowerment, boundary setting, etc. We also have a Kind Line available Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm EST. Please feel free to call for support. You can also see our current programs on our website at www.resilientretreat.org/calendar.
- Anter, E. & C. B. Supportiv (2021). You don’t have to accept unhealthy behaviors, just because it’s your family: How to break dysfunctional patterns with family members. IDONTMIND Journal. https://idontmind.com/journal/how-to-break-dysfunctional-patterns-with-family-members
- Reed, M., Medically reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 09, 2021. How to deal with toxic family members. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/handle-toxic-family
- Selva, J. (2021). How to set healthy boundaries: 10 examples + PDF worksheets. https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/
- Ubaidi, A. (2017). Cost of growing up in dysfunctional family. Journal of Family Medicine, 3(59). doi.org/10.23937/2469-5793/1510059