Does your family disrespect your boundaries, making it challenging to set and maintain them?

Does your family of origin still treat you like a child?

Or do they simply get mad when you try to set limits or assert your preferences and desires?

If you are nodding your head, then this episode is for you, my friend, because I am diving into why many of us struggle to set boundaries with family and what you can do about it. I also give you a few scripts for when your family of origin offers you unsolicited advice. 🔥

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

Why Is It Hard to Set Boundaries With Family of Origin?

One reason it is so hard to set boundaries with caregivers or parental impactors (the people who raised you) is that they have their own boundary issues and life experiences.

If they struggle to respect your boundaries, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have bad intentions. They may be oblivious to how their actions make you feel.

For example, they may be so identified with their role as parents, that they have no idea how not to parent you even though you are a grown-up.

Our parental impactors also have their own boundary blueprint – a collection of past experiences, family and cultural expectations, and beliefs and stories that shaped their behavior and your behavior when it comes to boundaries, past and present.

Now, it is not your job to teach your parents how to navigate their own boundaries. But it is your responsibility to learn how to effectively communicate and assert your boundaries with them (which is what we will get into below).

Examples of Disordered Family Boundaries

Disordered boundaries with adult children and parental impactors come in all shapes and sizes.

One of the most common is the parent centering themselves in your adult life.

Let’s say you are married, but your maternal impactor still expects everyone to spend the holidays at your childhood home because it is tradition.

It is appropriate for traditions to change, and yet, your parents may not want them to change. They want to remain in the center.

This might also look like your parents dropping by without giving you notice. They may also unrealistically expect you to pick up the phone no matter when they call. Or they may want to be invited to events meant only for your friends, like your bachelor/bachelorette party.

This is a centering and a boundary issue because you should be free to have your own friends and do your own thing without feeling responsible for their emotional experience.

Another disordered boundary is the “parent as a best friend.

Even if you have an amazing relationship with your parental impactors, they are not your friends.

From a therapeutic perspective, the mutuality inside an actual friendship is not an appropriate dynamic for parents and children.

Think about it – do you want to hear about your mother’s past sexual experiences? Or about your parent’s sex life?? 👀

Even when we are grown and healthy, certain things remain inappropriate for us to share.

I have an amazing relationship with my mom, but she is not my best friend because I have girlfriends, Vic, and my life. She will always be my mother.

Last, but not least, many of you say your parents give you unasked-for advice and weigh in on any decision you make.

This is painful, especially if they disagree with your choices or live their life differently. Their judgment can feel heavy and is bad for our self-esteem, especially if it is around our career, physicality, friends, and partners. Boundaries are the key to our sovereignty.

Your situation may not fall into any of these categories, but I wanted to provide you with the most common examples I’ve seen in my 25+ years as a psychotherapist.

These dynamics may even be present with your siblings, cousins, or anyone with whom you feel incredibly obligated to or for whom you feel the need to over-function.

I am not saying we should not, of our own accord, add value to our relationships. But we do need to be aware of where we feel obligated and put upon.

For more examples of how disordered boundaries can show up in families of origin, download the guide here.

Scripts For Unsolicited Advice

Tired of dealing with auto-advice from your family of origin? Here are a few scripts you can use to set them up for success:

  • “I have something I would like to share, but before I do, I want you to know I am working on trusting my own intuition and I would love it if you could listen with kindness and refrain from offering solutions. I will get there myself. I appreciate it.”
  • “Hey, I am actually not looking for input right now. Can you please just listen?”
  • “What I really need at this moment is for you to just listen, please.”

Some parents are simply clueless and harm us without intending to. Bringing this to their attention may cause them to change their behavior.

Others may dislike this boundary because giving advice makes them feel good or is how they show their love. But if you do not feel loved by it, you need to draw a boundary.

Boundary Exercises to Try

For the next 48 hours, pay attention to how you feel when you interact with anyone in your family of origin and write it down.

If you do not interact with anyone in the next 48 hours, think back to your last few interactions with them to get a clearer picture of what is happening to you.

Inside the guide, you will find a “boundary violation” section to help you get clarity on where your family of origin intrudes in your life. The clearer you are on this, the easier it is to start to establish healthy boundaries.

You’ll also find prompts to help you discover your preferences, desires, limits, and deal breakers when it comes to your family of origin.

Once you have clarity, you can slowly but surely begin implementing boundaries with love and kindness.

I hope this episode was valuable for you. Let me know your thoughts over on Instagram (@terricole) or in the comments. Is setting boundaries with your family of origin difficult for you? What type of disordered boundary behavior do you encounter in your family of origin the most?

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

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  1. I am a mother of three and am having issues with my oldest son. He does not answer emails or calls (I am not bombarding him with communication. I would say it is two calls a week at most (that go unanswered) and maybe two or three text messages). I haven't DONE something that I am aware of. Actually I am more likely to over compensate but am working on not doing that. If I stop communicating, then it appears they are getting left out of things that the other two arent (because they answer and participate). My sons new wife has a very different life path than my family. My son was raised in a Christian home and she is athiest. She has some really great life views and some that are harder for me to grasp. I love the mother that she is (they have a child) in many ways. I also do not favor some of her views, but I have made strong and I believe I have gone to lengths to not make an issue of our differences and be an encouragement to her and their relationship. My son has done a 360 and turned against his Christianity and I know this comes across as I have probably intentionally or unintentionally interfered or caused a riff. I have made every attempt not to do that. God gives us all the freedom to choose Him or not to choose Him. Who am I to interfere in that when God himelf gives us that choice? Yet there is tension and distance that I have done everything I can to take a step back, take a breath and bridge the gaps in a very gentle loving way, respecting their boundaries–while still quietly holding my own boundaries. I never make a fuss or get angry (although sometimes I get quite hurt and angry at his lack of communication and participation). He has a bit more communication with his siblings and a little more with his father (we are divorced). He has expressed to me before that "I" am the one he might more likely disappoint. Meaning he has avoided me because he knew (without me saying) that I might be disappointed by his decisions. I have tried to respect his choices while not compromising my choices. I am eager to apologize if one is in order. I really do not know what to do at this point to respect his choices and have a fruitful relationship with Him and his family. Frankly, I am exhausted. For the record my other two children tell me it is not me it is him and that I am doing all that I can.

    1. Hi Lori, I am holding space for your exhaustion ❤️ It sounds like you’ve been thoughtful in how you approach this. Have you tried having an honest conversation with your son (or your son and his wife) about how you feel? Or, have you asked about when is a good time for a phone call? “Hey, I noticed that my calls and texts are going unanswered and I wanted to check in on when might be a good time to communicate. Can you let me know what works best for you? How would you prefer to communicate?”

      Based on what you wrote here, I’m not sure if your son has always been less communicative than your other children or if this is more of a sudden thing. You can let him know that you are worried about him feeling left out of things and that this lack of communication bums you out because you’d love to have a deeper relationship with them. You can also ask how they feel about that.

      Does he know that you arent’t disappointed by his decisions and that he has your full support? It sounds like you might benefit from ensuring you’re all on the same page. You can do this in a loving way- “I noticed that there is tension and distance in our relationship that hasn’t been there before. I’ve noticed my calls and texts often go unanswered. I love you both and am worried/concerned about this rift. I am interested in hearing how you might be experiencing this. If I did something to cause this, I want to know so I can work on repairing this, but know that you have my full support.” ❤️

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