Being part of a family in the 3D human plane can bring up many challenges and lessons as you walk your spiritual path. Having a family – and learning how to navigate being in a family – offers many opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth.
Many of us have, at one time or another, given our power away to family. This might include, for example:
- living according to the rules and expectations of your parents/caregivers
- trying to follow in your parents’ or siblings’ footsteps, even if you’re very different people with different needs
- automatically stepping in to the family business, even if it’s not work that you’re aligned with or enjoy
- feeling obligated to attend family gatherings and reunions that drain your energy
- feeling obligated (or being expected) to financially or emotionally support family members
- putting your needs last to keep family members happy
- allowing family members to sweep important issues under the rug, to avoid conflict or tension
- forcing yourself to interact with family members who are toxic, abusive, judgmental, or who drain your energy just “because they’re family”
- dreading spending the holidays with family every year but being unable to make a different, healthier choice (like staying home, going on a solo vacation, doing the holidays with friends, etc)
Learning how to set firm, clear, healthy boundaries with your family can contribute hugely to your personal growth and evolution.
As you begin to look within for guidance and become more authentically yourself, you’ll start saying NO to many things you used to automatically say YES to. These often include family-related invitations, requests, demands, and obligations.
Family members who are used to you saying YES most or all of the time might react negatively to this. They might whine, complain, get angry, be offended, or express disappointment in you or your choices. They might try to guilt or push you into dissolving your new boundaries or making a different choice that feels more convenient for them.
Testing and Questioning Your Boundaries
Your family’s negative reactions to your authenticity and new boundaries might trigger you to question:
- am I being too rigid or harsh with this boundary?
- is this boundary unreasonable?
- am I being selfish in stating and prioritizing my needs?
- am I in the wrong here?
- is it even ok for me to enforce this boundary?
- will they get over it / still love me / think well of me even if I set this boundary?
This kind of self-doubt and self-questioning is common when you first start enforcing clearer boundaries with family. It takes a lot of presence, courage, and inner strength to hold steady to your boundaries even when others are upset, offended, or disappointed by them.
Guilt as an Indicator of Growth
The good news: if you’re feeling guilt or remorse about setting a boundary with family, you’re likely breaking through long-established, dysfunctional patterns of behavior. You’re probably shattering a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Guilt is a great indicator that you’re stepping out of the old patterns and no longer holding yourself hostage to them. The guilt you feel arises out of a misplaced (counterproductive) sense of loyalty to dysfunctional family patterns.
This guilt is often felt by a part of us that wants to “play by the rules.” A part that wants to fulfill the role of good daughter, good sister, good son-in-law, good relative. This part fears being rejected or criticized, so it wants to play by society’s rules – especially when it comes to expectations and cultural notions around family.
As long as you can sit with the guilt and allow it to be, without trying to push it away or walking back on your new boundaries, it will pass. And you’ll feel much freer and happier than before.
What Are You Making OK in Your Life?
It’s not ok to hold yourself hostage to rigid (and toxic) cultural and social ideas about family. These might include “blood is thicker than water” or “you must love and forgive your family no matter what.”
It is ok to explore what family means to you, how you define the word “family”, and how you want to create your own family. This includes deciding, for yourself, the standards people must meet to be allowed into your life. Just because someone is family doesn’t automatically grant them access to you, or the right to treat you however they want.
It’s not ok to pressure yourself into doing things you don’t want to do because you fear disappointing others.
It is ok to work through the fear of disappointing others. You must recognize it’s not your job to please anyone. Your needs, likes, dislikes, preferences, and instincts matter.
It’s not ok to keep giving your power away to family by diminishing yourself, your gifts, your authentic self, and your energy.
It is ok to begin showing up everywhere – even with family – as your true self, gradually releasing the need to please everyone.
It’s not ok to force yourself to go at anyone else’s pace or do what others want you to do and end up totally overwhelmed and drained.
It is ok to honor your own rhythms, preferences, and abilities. It’s ok to say NO to every single invitation or request that doesn’t light you up, without having to give any lengthy excuses or justifications.
It’s not ok to live in constant anxiety about how others might perceive you, and censor yourself based on this anxiety.
It is ok to work towards living as your authentic self. This means understanding at a deep, core level that it’s safe for others to criticize you, to disagree with you, to disapprove of your choices. It’s ok for others to be confused by your behavior, or to even think you’re selfish or “weird.”
It’s ok for others to get upset with your boundaries (as long as they still respect them). That’s THEIR business, not yours.
How to Set Boundaries with Family
STEP #1: Get clear about your current role(s) within your family.
The first step in setting healthier boundaries with family is to get really clear – and honest – about any co-dependent or enabling behaviors you’ve been engaging in.
It’s especially important to ask yourself: what dysfunctional role(s) have I been playing for my family, unconsciously?
Many of us will unconsciously and automatically take on dysfunctional roles in our family systems. Some of these roles could include: the people-pleaser, the conflict-solver, the peacemaker, the “good” daughter/sister/wife, the black sheep, the outcast, the overachiever.
Get clear about the roles you’ve been playing unconsciously, and how those roles keep you stuck in family dysfunction.
STEP #2: Identify if you’ve been carrying anyone unnecessarily.
The second step is to identify if you’ve been “carrying” a family member – a sibling, a parent, a distant relative – unnecessarily or in co-dependent ways.
For example, have you been paying a relative’s bills for them? Or cleaning up their financial, physical, or emotional messes? Are you making them the priority above your own needs, which doesn’t allow them to learn to care for themselves?
These are family members with whom you must begin to enforce clearer and healthier boundaries… both for your healing and for theirs.
STEP #3: Notice where a boundary is needed.
Taking inventory of your family dynamic, ask yourself: in which family-related areas am I feeling consistently drained, overwhelmed, resentful, stretched thin?
Is it that you’re saying YES to a relative’s invitations or demands when you really don’t want to? Is a particular relative placing overwhelming expectations on you? Or perhaps you feel drained when you’re around certain family members? Or you end up physically unwell – with a headache, anxiety, or irritability – after talking with a relative for too long on the phone?
These could all be areas and situations where firmer boundaries are needed.
STEP #4: Set the appropriate boundary.
Once you identify the areas and relatives with whom you need to set firmer boundaries, it’s time to enforce those limits.
Make sure your boundaries are clear, specific, firm, and loving. A big mistake we sometimes make is trying to communicate a new boundary too softly or gently, which leaves the other person confused about what’s ok with us and what’s not ok anymore.
Some examples of how a new boundary could be communicated:
- I’m busier than usual at the moment, and can only speak for 10 minutes on the phone today. [Once the 10 minutes are up, restate the boundary “I’m keeping an eye on the time and I have to run now.” Then hang up.]
- This year, I’m choosing to stay home for the holidays. I’ve realized I really need some time to recharge and [if it works for you to add this] I look forward to catching up in the new year.
- I have a lot on my plate right now and will have to say NO to this invitation/demand/request.
- Let me get back to you on that. [Buy yourself time to work up the courage to say no!]
- I can’t do XYZ anymore, but how about we change our plans and meet up for [some other activity more aligned with you]?
- I love you, but I need some time to myself.
STEP #5: Be compassionate with yourself if you feel guilt or remorse.
As we saw above, guilt is often a natural consequence of setting a new, healthier boundary and breaking through old patterns.
Expect to feel some guilt, especially in the beginning.
If guilt or remorse do come up, give yourself some compassion, patience, and support. Allow the guilt to move through you, without attaching too much meaning to it.
Just keep repeating to yourself: “this guilt is a sign of my progress towards healing and freedom. I’m strong and I can allow this guilt to move through me.”
Call a friend, healer, or counselor if you need more support sitting with or releasing the guilt!
May you be well. May you be at peace. May you find the courage and inner strength to be your authentic self, with everyone in every situation.
Sending all my love,