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How to put boundaries in place with unhealthy family members.

If you’re dealing with a controlling, manipulative, unhealthy parents or family members, you know that they thrive on overstepping your boundaries and pushing your “buttons.” And they often do it with impunity because they are…well, family.

That’s precisely why setting boundaries with family isn’t easy.

But it’s the only way to protect yourself from their overbearing, irrational ways. Not to mention, prevent years of resentment and bad blood.

So here are boundaries you need to set with your family member who has trouble distinguishing between “OK” and “not OK.”

1. Unexpected Visits

It’s OK for you to come visit me.

It’s not OK for you to drop by unannounced. I enjoy having guests over but I prefer to be prepared for their visit. This is my strong preference which I’m asking you to respect.

2. Aggressive Arguing

It’s OK for you to disagree with me.

It’s not OK for you to yell, curse, interrupt, talk over me, or push your point of view without even listening to mine. Also, it’s not OK for you to call me names, or question my intelligence.

3. Oversharing

It’s OK for you to share your feelings and thoughts with me.

It’s not OK for you to reveal personal things I have no business knowing and ask me to keep them secret. This is a job for your best friend, not your child.

4. Gossiping

It’s OK for you to talk to me when you feel hurt or offended. It’s not OK for you to gossip to me about other people. I don’t enjoy talking behind someone’s back. It makes me uncomfortable, and I won’t take part in it.

5. Lecturing

It’s OK for you to teach me if I ask you a question or explicitly ask for help.

It’s not OK for you to assume that you always know best and to shower me with unsolicited advice. Remember the old axiom: the best advice is the one you ask for. And it’s definitely not OK for you to shove your beliefs down my throat.

6. Freezing Out

It’s OK for you to want to take a break from me.

It’s not OK for you to give me silent treatment as a means of punishment. Prolonged silence is emotionally abusive and destructive. You don’t always have to talk to me. I understand if you need some time to calm down. But freezing me out for weeks or months at a time is beyond vicious.

7. Lashing Out

It’s OK for you to be angry or upset.

It’s not OK for you to take it out on me. I am not your punching bag, nor am I there to make you feel better. Your emotional well-being is your responsibility, and nobody else’s.

8. Pushing

It’s OK for you to ask me to do something.

It’s not OK for you to keep pushing if I say “no.” Declining your request is my right. You don’t get to act hurt, angry or disappointed.

9. Prying

It’s OK for you to be curious and to want to know more about me.

It’s not OK for you to ask me indelicate personal questions. If I have something personal I want to share with you, I will let you know.

10. Snooping

It’s OK for you to be concerned about me.

It’s not OK for you to go through my phone, computer, emails, packages, journal etc. to look for clues that something is wrong. Snooping lets me know that you don’t trust me, and you don’t respect my personal space.

What Happens When You Set Boundaries With Unhealthy Family Members?

They will hate boundaries.

So when you set a boundary with them, one of two things will happen. Either they will interpret it as a personal attack and get defensive (or even nasty!), or they will ask you to explain it, and then dismiss your reasons.


Set your boundaries regardless of the reaction you receive, and stick by them. Whether they become defensive or dismissive is of no consequence.

You don’t need to explain why you need a boundary any more than you need to explain why you need air to breathe.

When you start speaking up for yourself, saying “no” and setting boundaries with your toxic parent, it’s going to feel very uncomfortable. You might feel guilty, scared, ashamed and just sick to your stomach!

Don’t be alarmed, it will get easier. This is just your conditioning rearing its ugly head.

Children always know what they want and what they don’t want. They’re attuned to their needs.

But as we grow up, we are taught to keep quiet, be polite and please other people. With girls especially this conditioning is strong because it’s intertwined with the very concept of femininity.

“A major part of my conditioning, for example, is “don’t be rude.”

“When I look back at my life, I’m amazed at how many times I didn’t speak up or didn’t stand up for myself for fear of being rude. A few times I even put myself in serious danger, all to be polite. Crazy, isn’t it?!”

Other examples of conditioning that might stand in your way are

  • “Respect your elders”

  • “There’s nothing more important than family”

  • “Mother’s always right”

  • “I can only like myself if everyone likes me”

  • “I can’t stand when someone’s mad at me”

  • “Assertive women are perceived as mean or bitchy”

  • “I must get along with everyone to be a good person”

  • “To be feminine I have to be weak and helpless”

  • “I must prioritize everyone else’s needs over my own”

  • “I must keep the peace, or everything will fall apart” etc.

Keep Practicing Setting Boundaries

Don’t give up just because it doesn’t feel “natural” or easy!

It will get better as you become more aware of your conditioning and more willing to act from a place of self-acceptance and authenticity.

In fact, you will find this to be a real confidence builder!

After all, setting boundaries is about being your true self, honoring your needs and limitations, and releasing the need to please others at your expense.


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