Setting Boundaries With Dysfunctional Family Members

“The comfort zone” limits us not only in our private or professional development. It can block our liberation from toxic relationships. How to set the boundaries in dysfunctional relationships? Where to find the strength to say “no”?

It is quite understandable for me why you would like the members of your family to live in harmony with you. Perhaps you are tempted to turn a blind eye to certain behaviours and not to directly deal with certain things until they reach a point where you can no longer ignore them, where they make you feel sick inside. However, I believe that if you do not allow for dysfunctional behaviour, then it is a win-win situation for both sides. It doesn’t really matter whether this person is a member of your family or not. The tribal instinct makes you strive to survive by supporting your family, it is located deep within us. The ability to create such an intra-tribal consent was an important characteristic of our past, also at the genetic level – but it is no longer necessary. If you are an adult and are still dependent – financially or otherwise – on your parents, then you should aim at becoming independent as soon as possible, because if you remain dependent, it is more likely that you will try to somehow manage with their behaviour. And if it is dysfunctional, it will affect your whole life, your well-being – it’s simply not worth it. Carl Jung once said that one of the biggest challenges we have as human beings is to adapt to the herd while retaining our uniqueness. This means that adapting to the herd, the tribe or the group, makes sense at a biological level, but if you want to develop as an individual, then you have to disagree with others at some point, and this is, in fact, really helpful to the people for whom you set these rules. Telling them: “I will not tolerate your lack of respect” – because this is what happens in relationships with our loved ones in which we feel disrespected and hurt – we feel that we must either avoid these situations or endure any behaviour, as if we were children still and had to work “around the corner” of the problem. As a result, we spend the time of holidays or family gatherings on drinking, so as to numb and deny our emotions. But one of the negative effects that occurs when you deny emotions that lead to the conflict you want to avoid is the danger that you can adapt this behaviour as a coping mechanism to deal with other spheres of your life – that you will not be able to properly solve the issues in your relationships. I believe that we are more likely to attract positive relationships, whether romantic or friendly ones, if we deal with the problems that arise from our family past, the original problems. As I said, if you stop allowing others to disrespect you, it is a win-win situation, because it develops your self-confidence, while providing others with the chance to understand that their behaviour has consequences. They very often struggle with their own grief, anger or depression and simply put other people under the strain – so if you think you are in the trap of a system you can’t escape from – if you make yourself the recipient of this negativity and you patiently take it – then it strengthens their egos. You give them the message: “what you do is fine, I still love you, you are a great man” – and in fact, it is fine not to love someone who does not respect you. It is fine to say to yourself: “it doesn’t look like love to me at all. It looks like throwing insults, I find it disgusting and I’m not going to avoid this subject any longer. So if you are going to continue treating me like this, I don’t want to stay near you any longer”. Period. “If you want to change, I will be happy to welcome you back.” And that’s the essence – people can change. But if you don’t speak up, then all those people who are stuck somewhere in negativity and cannot cope with their emotional problems will prefer to take it out on somebody rather than do the work necessary to make a difference in their lives. However, if they suddenly find out: “Hey, nobody wants to be around me, because I behave like an asshole!” – this may give them enough power they need for personal evolution. They may or may not succeed in doing so in this life – but if you allow them to continue on doing what they have done so far, if you simply take all that negativity, criticism and bad energy you don’t think you deserve, then you don’t help them change, you don’t help yourself, you don’t help anyone. You are simply “the one that allows”, and the only thing you do is allowing the negative behaviour. Many people will try to justify their negative attitude, they will say: “Well, I’m a member of your family so you have to keep in touch with me” – but you don’t have to. Where is it written, anyway? Some people use religious concepts to justify their abuses and use such clichés as “Honour thy father and thy mother”, so as to explain away their negative behaviour. I am not a Christian, but if I were, I would understand it in a way that it is the allowance for such behaviours which is dishonourable. You don’t respect their divine spark, their essence, if you let them know that interacting with others can only be based on selfishness. To respect is to tell the truth, to set certain boundaries, as well as to say to oneself: “I will not make myself a passive recipient of their negativity”. Let’s face it: some people are lucky and have a family that gives them support and help, a family in which they feel loved and comfortable, but not everyone has a family like that. And if your family members are here to help you learn how to set boundaries, they are also helpful.

It is useful on your way to development and by establishing healthy boundaries you can also help them. This is not your responsibility, but at least it is a chance if you say “no” to negativity and simply let them know that you are not going to stand people who disrespect you, whether there is a genetic, adoptive or any other bond between you. It doesn’t matter what kind of bond you have, what matters is to teach others how to respect on your own example – to teach people in your life, in your community, how to respect each other. And it certainly doesn’t look like going to a family gathering just to listen to unpleasant things about you and then going to the kitchen for another drink in order to numb your emotions. Avoiding to solve this situation doesn’t help you or anyone else. If you are a child living in a negative situation, if there are abuses – report them. If you can’t get out of the current situation in any way possible to you, try to build a supportive community around you, composed of people who are good for you. You don’t have to be a passive recipient of the negativity you are being raised in, the negativity which is present in your environment – you can build your own community and learn to strengthen your self-esteem by choosing the people you want to be with. You have to understand that, no matter if you are a child or an adult, if you choose people who are negative towards you, who don’t respect you, then you are probably replaying your family experiences. The mechanism is that we unwittingly want to heal, to feel good, to love ourselves, but we don’t really know how, so we attract people who are not a positive force in our lives, so as to be able to take a closer look at it. We do not make these choices consciously (saying to ourselves: “This is what I deserve”) until we understand that we do not feel comfortable with it, until we decide to treat others with respect, to be honest, to set boundaries, and to choose the people we feel good with. Saying to people we do not feel comfortable with: “Listen, I know that it is probably fine with you to show disrespect or criticism to others, or to be passive-aggressive, but the reason why it is fine with you is because it strengthens your ego and I don’t feel comfortable with it at all, I don’t deserve such treatment, so I won’t take it any longer. If you want to grow, change and become a good person to be around, I will be happy to welcome you back in my life, but until then I am going to take a break, distance myself, forgive and do everything to take care of my life, in order not to let you continue behaving as if treating people aggressively is okay.” And I want to repeat it – it will be a gift for this person, and even if he or she makes a fuss about it (if that person is a family member who knows everything about you, knows your story and sensitive points) and wants to try to selfishly use everything he or she knows against you, so as to drive you back in doubt, to make you feel bad, to beguile you that you will no longer trust yourself, then it is the moment when your development arises, the moment when your strength appears and in this moment you must have trust and confidence in what you have learned during your work on yourself, to become aware of what is really happening and despite their intentions and their screams: “But I still want you to be around so I can mistreat you, I still want you to come by, so I can take my anger, grief or depression out on you”, despite everything, do not stop believing in yourself. Giving these people what they want will not be much of a favour to them, in such situations you have to say to yourself: “Now I am going to teach you what I want in order to feel good around someone. And if you don’t care enough to change your behaviour to the one which makes people feel good, then goodbye. I’m sad that I have to leave you, it will not be easy and some people in my life may not understand that, because they have wonderful families and they throw up grand ideas such as: family is important, or: family is all you have when others fail you, but these trivialities do not always turn out to be true”. So be faithful to yourself, set the boundaries, help yourself and others and systematically make the world a more conscious place, where people will no longer avoid problems and look for ways around them, but will be loving, will create communities based on love, will grow and heal, enjoying all the props that are available to them. Thank you for reading.

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