How Do I Set Boundaries With My Family?
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The ideal imagery of a loving, supportive family may be as much of a fantasy as the unicorn. All families have times they do not get along or traits they do not like about one another; however, dysfunction is something much more serious. Too many families have dysfunction – drug or alcohol abuse, fighting, neglect, emotional, physical, sexual abuse, mental health disorders, or other serious issues that prevent having healthy relationships. In these types of families, it can be necessary to set boundaries, especially if there are other family members in active addiction when you are in recovery. Being around these people and situations can be very distressing or even trigger a relapse. How do you set boundaries with your family?

What Are Your Needs Within the Family?

Each family, each person has its own needs regarding boundaries. As you begin your recovery journey, what are your needs within your family? What are the issues in your family that are dysfunctional and potentially triggering for you? Consider relationships with elements such as these, which could be dangerous for you:

  • Family members who are emotionally, verbally, or otherwise abusive
  • Those who are inactive with addiction
  • Family members who have been judgmental or unsupportive of your treatment
  • Those who are combative or regularly create conflict with you
  • Family members who have previously been abusive
  • Those who are manipulative or controlling
  • Family members with untreated mental health disorders

How Can Your Needs Be Met?

Within the unhealthy relationships within your family, determine what your needs are in order for you to be healthy. Consider the types of dysfunction you would need to avoid wherever possible in order to maintain your mental and emotional health. What types of boundaries would need to be created in order to help you maintain your emotional wellness and prevent a relapse? Some ideas for setting boundaries include:

  • Not attending family functions where alcohol is served
  • Avoiding one-on-one settings with those who are abusive or manipulative
  • Setting topics such as your treatment and recovery as off-limits for discussion
  • Having a set “escape plan” for family situations that get heated
  • Asking family members to attend family therapy with you
  • Not attending family functions where specific abusive family members are present
  • Limiting time spent with family members
  • Limiting family relationships to Facetime/phone/text only.

Are Your Family Members Willing to Keep Boundaries?

Having difficult conversations with your family members to set boundaries will help you determine whether they are willing to honor the boundaries you set. While no one likes feeling like they are being restricted, those with dysfunction are the least likely to respond positively to setting boundaries.

Family members who love you and want you to be a part of their lives will accept, learn to accept, or at least make attempts to accept the boundaries you set for them. Respecting and honoring your boundaries is a way of them demonstrating their willingness to make changes and grow. Those who are willing to participate in family therapy with you are the most likely to honor your boundaries.

I Love You From a Distance

For family members who do not respect your boundaries, you may need to increase the boundaries that you set for them. You may need to increase limit your interactions with them to protect your emotional well-being. The concept of “I love you from a distance” becomes a reality as you are forced to prioritize your health and safety over a close, tangible relationship. Sadly, for some particularly dysfunctional family members who are not willing to respect your boundaries and repeatedly put your wellness and recovery at risk, you may need to cut off relations with them altogether.

Cutting off ties with family members can be difficult, especially in certain cultures and families where family relationships are considered almost sacred in nature. However, if you allow the abuse and dysfunction to continue to the point that you relapse or worse, you may not be around to have a relationship with them anyway. They may not be able to see this, but you need to remember that this is the reason for your distance.

Putting Your Recovery First

Regardless of the pressure that your family, culture, or society place on you to pretend that your family relationships are normal and continue to subject yourself to dysfunction and abuse, you need to remember to put your recovery first. This is not about you trying to hurt anyone or create drama; it is the opposite. Your family needs to be healthy and respect your boundaries. You need to take care of your mental and emotional health and protect your recovery. 

How do you set boundaries with your family? First, determine your mental and emotional wellness needs and how they can be met. Offer your family the opportunity to keep boundaries, and if necessary, increase them until they can. Your emotional and mental wellness and recovery come before your family. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is a detox and residential treatment program for women with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our Costa Mesa, California facility is a quiet refuge for healing away from conflict and dysfunction. We strive to increase your self-awareness through education and can help you learn to set boundaries with your family. Our trauma-informed care helps you heal in a safe and empowering environment. Contact The Ho Tai Way today at (714) 581-3974 to learn more about our program for women.