Whether you come from a bunch of kooks or you married into them, most of us have some crazy fruits in our family tree. As comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” But if your family a) lives closeby, b) calls all the time, or c) is on Facebook more than any other teenager you know - it might be time to set some boundaries.
First, a word about why these little babies matter so much:
- They make everyone feel more comfortable
- They offer an escape from bad behavior, fear, or pain
- They increase your self-esteem and self-respect
- They ensure others respect you more
- They empower others to be direct and honest as well
However, no matter how beneficial they are to all parties, boundaries can feel like rejection - especially to crazy people. So how do you make enough space for you and your needs without hurting anybody’s feelings? We actually know the answer.
Step 1. Name Your Limits.
Think about what makes you feel stressed or uncomfortable. THOSE are your limits. You reserve the right to never be made to feel like that by your family, and the only way to uphold that right is to communicate those limits.
- If you feel uncomfortable when your cousin asks how much money you make, your limit is financial privacy
- If you get stressed when your mother-in-law questions your lasagna technique, your limit is unnecessary (and unhelpful) criticism
Step 2. Be Direct.
Once you’ve identified these limits/boundaries/SOS markers… whatever you want to call them, the next natural step is to tell your family about them. (Yeah, they don’t actually work if they’re just in your head.) A couple notes about sharing the boundaries - direct is best.
Instead of: “You know, sometimes when you hover over me while I’m in the kitchen even though I told you I don’t need help and you should just sit down and relax, it makes me feel like…” Try: “I appreciate that you’re trying to be helpful, but it’s okay that we have different methods of making lasagna. I’m happy to talk about it after I’m done cooking, but right now you’re distracting me.”
Step 3. Plan For Plan B.
It’s likely that at some point or another, you’ll need back-up or a Plan B - especially if the boundaries you’re setting are with your partner's family. Have a strategy in place for when Plan A (communicating directly and honestly) doesn’t work so well.
You can try a different response (“I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. If you don’t have anything constructive to say, would you mind giving me some space so I can finish cooking dinner?”) or simply a removal (a physical response like just walking away and increasing space between you and the crazy family member). (Involving them is also a great idea, like “Honey can you help us clear up this issue? I don’t think we’re communicating very well.”)
Although there are many other things that experts advise in the boundary-setting arena (focusing on self-care and personal responsibility, seeking outside support, and being consistent) these are really the big 3 for starting to lay some groundwork for a healthier, happier relationship with your family.
So, to recap:
- Name your limits
- Be direct
- Plan for Plan B
Remember that you are a beautiful and powerful badass and no one can make you feel stressed/uncomfortable/inferior without your consent.