Wellness Wednesday: Family and Boundaries

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Don’t let anyone rob you of your zen.

Most people have at least one person who can easily get under their skin by a harsh comment or a sharp look, and more often than not these people are part of the family. It cuts deep when a parent shows disappointment or disgust with a choice we’ve made or something we’ve done. But, nothing is thicker than blood, right?

Well, not exactly. Simply because you are related to someone by blood, or they are technically part of your family via marriage, does not mean that that person is healthy for you to have in your life. Being an addictions counselor really hit this one home for me, though that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. However, a family member does not need to have an addiction problem to be unhealthy for you. People can cause havoc in your life, using many different tactics (sometimes intentional, sometimes not). This can include, overall negativity, manipulation, intimidation, emotional extortion, among many others. I’m not telling you to “give up” on someone if you don’t feel like you’re ready for that, but I am giving you permission to consciously choose to disconnect with someone when you’ve decided that it is no longer healthy for you. And if you’re like me, sometimes that takes a long time to realize and you damage yourself even before you’re aware of what’s happening.

I can’t tell you when enough is enough, you have to decide that for yourself. And in life, there will always be people who disagree with what you’re doing. You may make the healthiest choice in the world for yourself, which includes distancing yourself from someone who brings you down–but other people may not understand that and they don’t have to. With family, it’s tricky, because the person you may want to distance yourself from can be physically around. But you can still choose how much or how little you talk to/share with them. For some people the word “family” conjures warm feelings and connection, for others it’s a source of torment and pain. For others, like myself, it’s somewhere in the middle, with some uncomfortable tension. Recognize that. Not everyone has close or fuzzy feelings toward their family.

Personally, I recently found out some information about my extended family related to addiction that really puts into perspective some people’s actions. It doesn’t excuse them, but it helps me understand the context for some decisions people have made regarding me. I try not to let people rob me of my peace, but some wounds run deep, and I’m able to forgive from afar. You don’t owe anyone your trust if they’ve broken it. You don’t owe anyone a second chance if it’s detrimental to you to give it. You can still be a Christian and protect yourself. Forgiving does not mean opening yourself up naively to future injury, it means no longer letting something have emotional power over you. It is sometimes helpful when you have information about a family member who hurt you, and his or her own background to understand that that person cannot give to you freely what was not given to them. If they did not come from a connected family, it will be hard for them to offer you connection. They may have done the best they could and still injured you in the process. It’s up to you now to take responsibility for your own life and not blame everything that goes wrong in your life on the relational injuries caused to you. You can do something about it: notice your wounds and how they affect you, heal them, and foster nurturing relationships in your life currently that you did not receive before. Believe me, you can absolutely choose to live in a place of bitterness, but that won’t get you what you missed out on. When you find yourself struggling with relational hurt, remember these things.

  1. Everyone wants to be happy, and most people don’t want to damage others, though they may lash out when angry/hurt/reacting to their own past hurts.
  2. People cannot give to you what they do not understand/haven’t experienced themselves.
  3. There is ALWAYS going to be someone who disagrees or disapproves of a decision you’ve made.
  4. It is ok to distance yourself from people, even a family member, when you’ve decided they are no longer healthy for you. And you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.

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