Do you ever have difficulty drawing boundaries with the humans who raised you (or your parental impactors, as I like to call them)?
There’s no doubt that plenty of you are nodding your head yes. No matter your age, it can be incredibly challenging to make the transition from your parents as the authority in your life to you as the authority.
Have you ever gone home for a visit and suddenly you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine and you find yourself reacting as your younger self?
What I’ve found over many years in my psychotherapy practice is that even though we might be pretty confident setting boundaries and being self-determined in other areas of our lives, we can still struggle with exercising our boundary rights within our family of origin.
Your job as a grownup is to set boundaries that work for you and your adult life, and often, our family of origin and our parental impactors, in particular, are like the final boundary frontier to master.
In this week’s episode, I’m giving you my best tips to understand any blocks you might have so you can set and maintain healthy boundaries with your folks because when you do, your relationship with them and others will be all the better for it!
Why is it so hard to draw boundaries with your childhood caregivers when you’re obviously already way grown-up?
Parents have their own limitations and relationships to boundaries. They are human just like the rest of us. If they aren’t respecting your boundaries, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have bad intentions. They might be simply oblivious or so identified with their role as a parent that they cannot see clearly.
Just like you and me, our parents each have their own boundary blueprints. That is, the collection of past experiences, family and cultural expectations, beliefs, and stories that shape their behavior in relation to boundaries in the present.
While it is not your job to teach your parents how to navigate their own boundaries, it IS your responsibility to learn how to effectively communicate and assert your boundaries with them.
Even if your parental boundaries are disordered at the moment, there are small steps you can take to begin to shift into a more authentic and fully expressed relationship. Disordered boundaries between adult children and parents are caused by an array of circumstances and experiences and they can be altered and improved.
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of disordered parent/child boundaries.
As I stated above, some parents’ identities are too dependent on parenting and they don’t know how to move to the next phase of development in their own life.
In a healthy family dynamic, parents transition as their children grow up and can relate differently at each stage of development, from baby to child, from teenager to adult.
Perennial parents don’t make the transition. If your parents are constantly judging you, are intrusive, interfering, or have unrealistic expectations, you might have a perennial parenting situation. I give a few examples inside this week’s video, and you can watch it above. There is a high price to pay for both parent and adult child in a stunted parent/child dynamic.
When a parent centers themselves in their adult child’s life, resentment builds. To the parent clinging to this kind of behavior, you’re not fostering love, you’re fostering fear. If you are the adult child in this situation, gently and lovingly setting boundaries with your parent one small step at a time IS possible.
Here are some other examples of disordered boundaries:
The parent as “your best friend” scenario. Your parents aren’t your friends. From a therapeutic point of view, the mutuality inside of a friendship isn’t the appropriate dynamic for a parent/adult-child relationship.
Saying and acting out some version of, “I’m your mother (or father), and I can do what I want.” This could look like not letting you know before they come over or showing up to events you didn’t invite them to or buying your kid something you explicitly told them you didn’t approve of. You get the idea.
Having unrealistic expectations and violating your personal boundaries. Calling and expecting you to pick up no matter what (and getting pissed off if you don’t), even if you’ve asked them not to while you are at work for example. Expecting you will spend every single holiday with them because it’s what “you’ve always done.”
Auto-advice giving. They literally are ready to give you their 2 cents on everything. They feel like they have a right to weigh in on every decision you make in your life. This is especially painful because it can put you in a situation where you feel like you are constantly having to defend yourself and explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Extreme judgment. Your parents might judge you for how you’re raising your kids or the choices you’ve made. Being judgemental about your body, your career, your relationships or anything else isn’t ok.
Interfering in your personal life. This could look like revealing something to your spouse or partner they shouldn’t have, texting or calling your friends, or asking your kids to keep secrets from you.
There are many ways disordered boundaries between you and your parents can manifest, but if any of this is resonating with you, take an inventory.
How do you want to live? What is not working? Where are you harboring resentment?
Are there things you are doing right now you don’t want to be doing…but you don’t want to disappoint/anger/upset one or both of your parental impactors? What are those things?
Getting clarity around your personal pain points is the first step to making a change. It’s only then you can figure out where you can compromise but still be in your integrity.
If you’ve been in this behavioral pattern for your entire life it can feel scary or even impossible to make big changes. Once you get committed to creating healthier boundary interactions it can be tempting to grab a bull horn and announce, “Things are about to change, people!!” Yet, the best, most effective way to create sustainable change is to make one small shift at a time. Not to mention, making a big declarative statement can be counterproductive, putting others on edge and setting you up to fail.
You can do it one thing at a time, one small boundary request at a time, one next right action at a time. To assist you, I’ve created a special guide with specific inventory questions and an energetic boundary protection exercise to support you on your path to better adult boundaries with your parental impacters.
You have a right to be self-determined in this life, including in your relationship with your parents, but what’s required is learning the skills to assert yourself. That’s where boundaries come in. I wrote Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (finally) Live Free, to give you a complete transformational process to establish, communicate and maintain healthy, vibrant boundaries in all areas of your life.
The book is available for pre-order right now (woohoo!), so if you love this work, and you want to step into your most empowered Boundary Boss self, get your copy here now.
(Pre-ordering also supports me as a first-time author so thank you, merci, gracias, danke, spasiba, efharisto, mahalo, 감사합니다 🙏)
Thank you for being on this journey with me and as always, take care of you.
Here are some more ways I can support you:
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