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DEALING WITH TRICKY FAMILY MEMBERS (1)


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One of the biggest sources of frustration around TFM situations is feeling as if your hands are tied. Say nothing and you feel bad anyway, say something and you feel bad or feel bad for other family members.

The thing is, the problem will not go away whether it’s with silence and suppression, pleasing, or going into battle. Even if you ignore them, the problem still won’t go away because you’re likely going to be angry and still giving you a hard time.

You can have a healthy relationship with somebody who isn’t necessarily the most boundaried of people.  I’m serious!

Relationships represent connections and dynamics, with some being deeper and more detailed connections than others. You can enjoy a relationship with a person (this is relationships of all types not just romantic) but you can also have a healthy relationship in the sense of knowing your boundaries and so recognising any limitations that might exist in that relationship or special pieces of information that govern the way in which you need to think about or interact with that person.

We do this naturally every single day when we, for instance, interact with strangers or acquaintances, when we’re a customer, or when we’re dealing with a child, a police officer, or our boss and co-workers.

In these examples, you take account of the way in which you behave and the way in which you think about you in the context of this person and the relationship, without even referencing the way in which that person acts. You have a boundaried attitude.

I have not one, not two, but three sides of my family who all have tricky family members. In order to ensure that my brain doesn’t melt down or that I don’t lose a chunk of my life firefighting issues to keep together some concept of what I think our relationships ‘should’ be, I’ve had to have a more boundaried attitude – I take care of my own boundaries (mental, emotional etc) by keeping my feet firmly rooted in reality. I don’t judge me for who they’re not and instead of judging them, I judge the situation and decide on how deep I want my engagement to be [with them].

So, here is a healthy attitude in action:

E.g. Your mother regularly crosses boundaries and attempts to guilt and manipulate you when you don’t comply. When that doesn’t work, it’s criticisms and strops. After an extended period of time of internalising her actions as your problem, you do some self-work and decide to establish healthy boundaries for you so that she’s no longer able to impact on your peace of mind and disrupt your life to the extent that she has in the past.

You recognise that this is her concept of what being a mother is but it’s not a healthy concept nor is it the only representation of what a mother is.

You also recognise that you are her daughter/son but that you are also an adult and as such, the boundaries that exist between you need to reflect this, even if it is only from your side. You recognise the issues that she has and accept her for who she is but you also make you aware of what healthier boundaries are so that you don’t keep thinking that this (her way) is the only version of a relationship. When thoughts pop up where your inner critic is trying to guilt you into doing her bidding, you lovingly intervene and correct and reassure you. You make yourself aware of all of her typical habits including keywords and phrases, typical situations, signs that you’ve come to recognise are a prelude to her tricky shenanigans, and you figure out a way to either not be exposed to or drawn into this stuff, as well as how to limit the impact of it.

Relationships of all types are collaborative and copiloted, i.e. they cannot be all on someone’s terms.

You being boundaried for you does not mean that you are imposing a single view of relationships. They have a choice about how they do or don’t want to interact with you but what a person cannot does is decide not to collaborate with you and then feel aggrieved that you won’t do a joint relationship solely on their terms.

You’re not saying via your boundaries that you only want to do things on your terms; you’re saying that you want to have a mutual relationship with care, trust and respect and that if they want to behave otherwise, you will be boundaried for you and will not be engaging with them in a way that makes you complicit in the drama.

You can have a healthy relationship with someone by having a healthy attitude about them.

It’s recognising and honouring the fact that you’re two individual entities, that they’re not the boss of you and that they only have as much power as you afford them.

It doesn’t mean that you relate to each other healthily but from your end of things, you respect you and them with healthy boundaries even if they don’t have the nous, empathy or even character to do the same back.

With an Absentee, you might decide that you’re not going to force them to try to step up or to talk about things that they’ve dodged so far or even to show remorse; you might decide to step back, to recognise that how available they are has absolutely no bearing on you, and that you’re going to be your honest, authentic, available self. You might look at where you can support you to meet unmet needs, and how to be less exposed to any disruptive behaviour on their part. They might not be crazy about you being your true self but at least you no longer feel bad due to misguided attempts to try to make them into somebody that they’re not.

With a Follower, you might decide that you’re not going to try to make them stand up or keep trying to show them the way; you might decide to accept that they have their issues and reasons for their behaviour but that you’re not going to be part of enabling them.

With an Obliger, you might accept that this is their style of doing things but that doesn’t mean that you are obliged in actuality. You might learn the signs of their obliging ways so that you are less likely to be drawn in and if they try to guilt you, you might remind them of the actualities – that you’re saying no this time but you have said yes many times before. You might accept that there will be short-term discomfort but that they will eventually understand what is and isn’t OK for you. That and they might find someone else to oblige….

With a Rebel, you might decide to accept that whatever you suggest, they’re likely to take up the opposing position, not because they necessarily believe in it but because it’s just their thang. You might decide to stop inviting them to things where you know they’ll act up and might even decide to stop burning up your precious time trying to get them to do be different.

With a Ruler, you might decide that time is up for taking up a child role and that you will say no when necessary, doing whatever is needed to uphold healthy boundaries for you. You might decide that if they continue to try to impose their way upon you, that you will step back for a time or even opt out.

With an Upholder, you might decide to leave them to their thing and let the chips fall where they may. You accept that it might not go down too well initially but you accept that how they see things is just their view and that it’s up to them to address their own discomfort. You realise that you could try to keep up with everything and all it will do is reinforce this idea that they’re supposed to set the rules for everything, when they’re not.

With a User, you might decide that you’re going to stop hoping that they’ll be different “this time” and that the Bank of You is shut and that there are better ways to feel needed, of value and purposeful. You will still give to people but from a more boundaried place.

We must honour our boundaries whether we have the other person’s cooperation or not, respectfully and with compassion.

Blaming others for you not having boundaries by not adjusting and taking care of you and instead waiting on them to change or trying to make them change or see your way (remember— boundaries are two-fold), is the fastest way to ensure that nothing improves for you. Recognising your boundaries means that it doesn’t have to get to the point of eruption or despair. You feel less invaded, less imposed upon, less victimised and less drained.

The TAKEAWAY

  • Don’t let the fact that someone else doesn’t have good boundaries or integrity, get in the way of you having boundaries and integrity for you.
  • Stop judging you for who other people aren’t. Accept you and accept them. Acceptance does not mean liking or agreeing with the way that they go about things but it respects the truth of who they are instead judging you or judging them. Treating you badly because someone else is coming from a different level of awareness to you just isn’t fair or kind.
  • If you’re thinking about things in terms of superiority or inferiority, you’re judging and that’s going to get in the way of you being boundaried. You can’t be compassionate and actually, you just can’t have the perspective to healthily do right by you and the interaction.
  • Judge the situation. Positively learn from it and express it with healthy boundaries.
  • Remember that a person who doesn’t really respect boundaries idea of what’s right for a situation or what they think that they can expect or even demand from you, is very different to that of someone with a healthier attitude.
  • The right/healthy/compassionate thing to do for a situation is not always going to be what the other person or even you wants. E.g. They want you to do something that’s unfair and unreasonable. The best thing that you can do is decline. They experience the natural consequences from that interaction and also experience boundaries, and you effectively stay in your own lane. It’s a shift in energy and without getting all woo woo, they experience a more appropriate response and even the karma.
  • It’s all too easy to spend our time lecturing people about what we feel that they should do differently but if we focus on being us, we communicate through the way in which we treat ourselves, what is and isn’t permissible for us. We learn something, they learn something even if it’s not apparent to us or them at the time.

Journal PromptJOURNALING: Look at the example I gave about at the mother who doesn’t respect boundaries and apply it to the TFM. Start by acknowledging in a few sentences, what it is that he/she does that oversteps your boundaries. Acknowledge what their concept of the type of relationship they’re having with you and acknowledge yours. Focus more on what you want out of a relationship – e.g. love, care, trust, respect, to be heard – rather than focusing on what you don’t want. Acknowledge the specific issues that get in the way of the type of relationship you wouldn’t mind collaborating with him/her to have and also acknowledge what you need to be and do in order to have a more boundaried attitude, i.e. What do you need to think and do in order to have good emotional and mental boundaries in particular?