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Setting Boundaries While Maintaining Loving, Respectful Connection

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

This is the second in a series about setting boundaries. The first was titled "Empowering Yourself Through Setting Boundaries With Toxic People: A Guide to Self-Protection" which was about setting boundaries with people with narcissistic characteristics and those who gaslight you that you may not necessarily continue to have a relationship with. While that blog post included specific examples that can be used with anyone, this time I wanted to share about the challenges there are when we are setting boundaries with family, and close friends whom we deeply care about that we may be establishing boundaries with for the first time and who we want to maintain a relationship with. What makes setting boundaries with family and friends so difficult when we are starting to assert ourselves, being able to say no or ask for what we need? The emotional connection and history we share with them often make us more hesitant to assert our own needs and preferences. We fear jeopardizing the bond we share with them or being perceived as confrontational, leading to potential conflict or rejection.

Paradoxically, with narcissistic individuals who are not as closely related to us, it can be relatively easier to establish boundaries. The absence of emotional attachment grants us a certain distance, making it more straightforward to recognize and address their manipulative or exploitative behaviors in the first place. With the lack of a personal connection, we can prioritize our well-being, assert our boundaries without the same emotional complexities that come into play with close relationships. When it comes to family and friends, it's till important to prioritize our well-being while being able to maintain a loving, respectful connection even if we are afraid of what they will think or how they will react. What are some of the dynamics that make it harder to set boundaries with family and friends? Familiarity and Expectations: Family dynamics and long-term friendships often involve established patterns of behavior and expectations. You've got a history with each other. There is familiarity in the relationship. Changing these dynamics can disrupt the familiar routine, causing discomfort, uncertainty and resistance. Whenever there is a dysfunctional component to the relationship, it is usually one person who initiates doing something different. Doing something different feels scary. When someone begins setting boundaries, it introduces a new dynamic that may challenge established patterns and expectations within the relationship or family. Fear of being abandoned or losing attachment is a natural response to someone setting boundaries. Fear of the unknown is another factor when both individuals are navigating uncharted territory. There needs to be time to adjust what has become familiar and expected.

Resistance to Change: Adjusting to change can be difficult for many people; even good change. It can be especially challenging when one person starts setting boundaries within a relationship. Humans are creatures of habit, seeking stability and predictability in their lives. The person initiating the change may face resistance or pushback from the other party who may struggle to adapt to the new boundaries. The process of adjusting to change requires patience, open communication, and a willingness to work together to find a new equilibrium that respects everyone's needs and boundaries.

Emotional Attachments: The emotional bond and attachment you have with family and close friends can make it difficult because you may worry about hurting their feelings or fear the potential conflict that could impact the relationship. Guilt and Obligation: Feelings of guilt or obligation can arise when setting boundaries with loved ones. You may feel a sense of responsibility to always be there for them or fear disappointing them by asserting your needs and limitations. Even if the guilt is false, it can still be felt when doing something different from what you have always done in the past. Fear of Rejection or Judgement: There is a natural desire to be accepted and validated by those we care about. The fear of potential rejection or judgement can hinder the willingness to set boundaries, as it may feel like you're causing a rift or risking the relationship. The fear of rejection is a huge motivating factor in keeping us stuck in old patterns just to keep from asserting ourselves or setting boundaries when we need to. Balancing Love and Boundaries: Balancing love and care for your family and friends with the need for personal autonomy and self-care can be a delicate process. It can be challenging to find the right balance between showing love and setting boundaries, as you want to maintain the relationship while also respecting your own well-being.

Setting boundaries for the first time with individuals we have deep, long-lasting relationships with can be challenging, especially when it comes to family where there is a long standing history.

Here are some specific examples of setting firm boundaries while expressing care and love:

  • Family Member: "Mom, I understand that you want the best for me, but I need to establish some boundaries around my personal life. I appreciate your concern and I love you, but it would be helpful if we could limit our discussions about certain topics. I hope you understand that this is important for my own growth and autonomy."

  • Close Friend: "Sarah, I value our friendship, and I want to be honest with you. Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. I need your help regarding the amount of time we spend together. I hope you understand that I need to focus on my personal goals and create more space for myself. I would really like it if you would respect what I need. Our friendship means a lot to me and when I get enough alone time I will be more available when we do hang out which will make for a stronger connection.

  • Sibling: "Alex, I appreciate your concern and involvement in my life, and I value our relationship, but I need to say that when it comes to giving advice without me asking for it I need you to refrain from doing so. I'm very open to hearing your thoughts when I do need guidance. I love you and I hope we can find a balance that works for both of us to respect and support each other.".

  • Parent: "Dad, I want you to know how much I appreciate your love and support. However, I feel that it's important for me to make decisions about my career path on my own. I kindly ask that you trust my judgment and allow me the freedom to explore my own passions and interests. I believe that this will ultimately lead to my personal growth and happiness. Thank you for understanding and respecting my autonomy."

  • Son: When calling late at night. "I really want to talk to you because I appreciate the closeness we have, however, I need to start a phone conversation with you earlier in the evening. Could we talk tomorrow because I really want to connect with you, but I really need to get some sleep."

  • Friend: When borrowing things without asking and failing to return them. "I value our friendship, and I'm happy to let you borrow things when you ask for them. I feel uncomfortable when my things are taken or not returned to me. I need you to return the items you have borrowed before I will say yes to you borrowing anything else. And from now on, I need you to ask permission first.

  • Parent: Who frequently comments on your appearance. "I know that you care about me and what I wear, but comments on my appearance cause me to feel uncomfortable. I would prefer if you would focus on other aspects about me and our relationship and avoid discussing my appearance. I'd appreciate your understanding.

  • Sibling: "I value our relationship as sisters/brothers and when you make sarcastic remarks about me in front of my friends I feel hurt and embarassed. I would like to request that we treat each other with kindness and respect even if we disagree or have differing opinions".

These specific examples can serve as starting points for initiating boundary conversations, but feel free to tailor them to your unique circumstances and the dynamics of your relationships. Remember, setting boundaries is about expressing and asserting your needs and preferences in a clear, assertive, and respectful manner, and hearing what the other person wants and needs.. It's important to communicate your boundaries honestly and kindly, emphasizing your desire to maintain a healthy and loving relationship while respecting your own well-being. It may take time for others to adjust and understand your boundaries, so be patient and continue to communicate your feelings with empathy and respect. Healthy relationships are built on mutual understanding and support for each other's individuality.

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