6 Ways to Know It’s Time to Set Firm Boundaries with Family and Toxic Friends

#1. You find it difficult to say no.

We have all at some point in our lives been people pleasers.  No one likes to feel like they have let down someone they love.  However, when taking on too many tasks or favors has drained your resources, time, and emotions it’s time to take a step back to re-evaluate your motives.  There are some people in our lives that take advantage of our willingness to help and to be kind. No one is saying not to help a friend in need or not to make sacrifices for the ones you love.  Be there for your family and friends but not at your own expense.  Take a look at their behavior the next time you have to say no.

#2. You make excuses and give reasons why you have to say “no”.

This is a carry over from number one and will tie into #3.  Sometimes you may find it difficult to say no or to speak up for what you need. Instead, you make up excuses to tell that needy friend or family member why you can’t help them out this time. Your lack of firm boundaries makes you feel responsible for their feelings and how they may respond to you saying no.  No you don’t have a flat tire, no you are not sick, no your dog did not pass away.  Stop speaking illness and misfortune on yourself because you don’t know how to say “not this time”.

#3. Guilt and Manipulation is often used to serve their emotional needs.

The use of guilt and manipulation can be subtle or bold and outright.  Sometimes this is characterized by excessive crying or anger, passive aggressive behavior, the silent treatment, and emotionally disconnecting.  Those that have trouble maintaining and respecting boundaries often have poor emotion regulation.  The situation is not congruent with their emotional response.  These people are often dramatic and know your weak spots and target them everytime.  Boundaries are seen as a threat.  If you are not careful, these types of people have a powerful way of making you believe you are the only person in the world that can meet their need.  The goal is to make you feel responsible for their feelings.   In the end, you serve them by remaining emotionally engaged.

#4. You can’t identify your own feelings, thoughts, and opinions independent of others.

Having a sense of independence and a strong sense of self is crucial.  Without those you find yourself living a life that is/was never your own.  All too often people go to the college their parents choose for them, follow career paths expected of them, or marries a spouse their family wanted them to. They never got to explore who they were and any steps moving toward independence are met with strong emotional responses.  These emotional responses are enough to cause the person to reconsider and second guess where their place is in the world should be.  Parents that foster these types of unhealthy relationships raise children that are sometimes stunted in their emotional growth and development.  These children grow into adults that constantly seek validation from others and question their own abilities. The expectation is now for these emotionally underdeveloped adults to be fully functioning and they simply just don’t know how.  Unhealthy cycles and patterns are perpetuated.  Unfortunately, patterns of poor boundary setting carry over into marriages and newly formed families and intervention is often needed.

#5. Your loyalty is often called into question.

This is a big one.  The biggest threat to a family with weak boundaries, is a family member that has somehow developed a healthy sense of self.  This family member is often known as the “black sheep” of the family.  They have not succumb to the “group think” mentality.

Every family has 1 of 2 types of people.  The first type is those that see when things are wrong but won’t speak up and defend what is right.  The other stands for what’s right and challenges wrong even if it means they stand alone.  Family therapy uses a term called differentiation.  To be fully differentiated one has achieved optimum emotional independence.  I don’t know that any one person has fully reached this level of emotional independence; but some are closer than others.  The term loyalty is often misapplied when speaking in terms of familial support.  Disturbing the unhealthy patterns of a family with enmeshed boundaries may mean you are being disloyal to the family’s dysfunction rather than the family itself.  It’s important to know the difference.

#6.  Your resources, emotional and mental bandwidth is depleted.

If you feel you are always coming away with the short end of the stick, it may be time to realign some boundaries.  Setting and maintaining boundaries is crucial for self-care.  The saying “you teach people how to treat you” is spot on.  You get what you permit.  It is not always easy to set boundaries especially with those you love; but remind yourself of all the ways you show up for them.  Those relationships that can not handle healthy boundaries will shed themselves from your life.  Those that respect you and your decisions will stand the test of time.

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