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Setting boundaries at the best of times is challenging, but learning how to set boundaries with toxic family members? Even harder! Usually, when they’re family members, the dynamic is a lot different. Of course, we might still see them at family dinners or other events. But, we also have the added stress of our family being involved, upset and convincing us otherwise. In this podcast and episode, I cover how to set boundaries with a toxic family, when to and how to deal with other family members’ responses.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Set Boundaries With Toxic Family Members
In my own experience of setting boundaries with a toxic family, the biggest signs are:
- The relationship is bringing you no joy. It’s making you pretty miserable on a weekly or even daily basis
- You feel like you’re going in circles with this family member when you try to resolve the issues (I.E.when you’ve tried time and time again to talk to them and get along, but nothing is working)
- Another sign that it might be time to set boundaries with a family member is when this toxic cycle starts affecting the rest of the family. I know for me, the environment between myself and this family member became so aggressive that it began to affect everyone around me. Family members started to feel like they were constantly in the middle of us. It was exhausting for everyone.
So when you’re thinking of setting boundaries with a toxic family member, ask yourself:
- Are you going in circles with this toxic family member?
- Is this cycle you’re stuck in starting to affect the whole family?
How Do You Set Boundaries With Toxic Family Members?
I chose to cover specifically setting boundaries with family because it’s so hard. More often, escaping a toxic family member when they’re still in other family members’ lives is tricky.
In my personal experience, when deciding how to set boundaries with a family member, I had to ask myself whether I would accept this behaviour from anyone else. This meant stepping out of the “role-playing” view I had in my mind and looking at the person and the situation objectively.
If you’re deciding how to deal with a disrespectful family member, this is a great way to think about it without the influence of everything and everyone else’s expectations.
So ask yourself, would you accept this behaviour from anyone else? If the answer is no, then let’s talk about how to set boundaries when they’re family.
Don’t change your boundary for other people.
Setting boundaries with toxic family members can be difficult because it involves the whole family. When you set the boundary, the dynamic changes not just for you but for the entire family. This doesn’t make it wrong. It’s just something to keep in mind and expect.
When escaping a toxic family member, remember that this decision should come out of self-love and self-respect. This also means that when other family members ask you to change or alter this boundary, you must acknowledge that being honest and saying no is okay. It’s natural for the family to do things like:
- Say, “Can’t you sort it out? They’re you….”
- Invite you to family events where they’re there and get upset when you say no
- Consistently present reasons why you should speak to them
- Make you feel guilty for the discomfort it’s causing everyone else
This doesn’t mean you should adjust your boundary out of guilt or a need to please. I did this for many years (continuing the bad cycle with this toxic family member). My life and happiness started to change when I found the courage to say no lovingly. To understand the perspective of my family members but also remember that we need to do what’s best for us and our loved ones around us (even if they don’t always agree).
For example, dinners with this person attending were no longer on the table for me (pun intended!). I decided that significant events like weddings and whatnot were fine, but smaller events like family dinners and some birthdays were too much. So I decided not to attend them when this family member was there.
I was always respectful when explaining to whoever was hosting why I couldn’t attend and sincerely showed my appreciation for the invitation. But I also honestly explained that this was my limit. I also made sure to hold no grudge for other people’s decisions. When other family members mentioned or invited them, I stayed diplomatic but kept my boundaries.
Related content: Letting Go Of Someone You Love (When To & How To)
Everyone is going to have something to say
As I’ve said, our family members will always have something to say. While they have good intentions and mean it out of love, we must remember that this will always happen.
At first, I used to approach these comments with anger and frustration. Still, now I try to remember the perspective of others while holding firm to my personal beliefs and boundaries on the situation.
The best we can do is explain the why behind our decision. After that, it’s up to the other person to listen or not.
Try boundaries and adjust them when necessary.
Setting boundaries with a toxic family is a bit different to a friend or ex-partner because you may see them often. Especially when they’re still a part of everyone else’s lives. I know; I needed to think about how I would respond to this toxic family member.
Initially, I tried simple boundaries like no longer speaking to them on the phone (which I usually did daily), no longer working with them professionally and deciding not to be open about specific personal topics (like work and relationships).
For me, it was a process of setting these boundaries and seeing how they went, then adjusting them when needed.
If you’re figuring out how to deal with a disrespectful family member or escape a toxic family, remember it can be a step-by-step process. Decide on small, essential boundaries that you might need first (i.e. no longer talking to them on the phone) and work from there. If you find this isn’t working, then maybe it’s time to consider letting them go completely (I have a post and podcast on that here).
Don’t feel guilty about escaping a toxic family member
It took me a long time to stop feeling guilty about the boundaries I’d set with this family member. It’s even harder when family members ask us why and express their disappointment, concern or sadness about it.
When you feel like this, remember that boundaries are not about being tough (which is often how it’s perspective when you’re dealing with a disrespectful family member!). Instead, boundaries are about self-love and self-respect. They often teach us a lot about ourselves and give us the courage to find our voice. But most importantly, boundaries give us the courage to find our happiness.
Despite my family being disappointed in my decision, I have felt freer and a lot happier than I ever have in my entire life. We are responsible for our happiness, and boundaries are one way we can find our voice and help create a better life for ourselves. The family members that truly love you will always understand this and support you despite their personal views on it.
Related content: 7 Tips For Starting Over In Life
Suppose a family member is genuinely causing you unhappiness, and you haven’t managed to communicate and figure it out. In that case, boundaries become necessary for yourself and the people around you. Not only do they help to create a healthier environment for yourself but also everyone else.