A couples’ therapist once gave me an incredible piece of advice. She told me that when a romantic couple decides to become a unit, they become their own bubble. No one is automatically allowed into that bubble — not in-laws or siblings or friends; they are allowed into the bubble with permission from the couple, and that permission can be denied if the couple decides to set that boundary at any point.
We often get hung up on the obligation to allow family and friends into our bubble, we put up with bad behavior, negative energy, unhealthy patterns, toxicity, criticism, etc. in the name of being a good friend or family member. We limit the amount of time spent with the person, dread the interactions, feel angry or depleted afterwards and grin and bear it because we’ve been told that’s the right thing to do. It’s particularly difficult to stand up for yourself when the offending party is a parent, because we’ve been conditioned since childhood to survive at whatever cost. As children, we need our parents to provide for us, love us and protect us. As adults, our inner child still thinks it needs parents for survival, and so we often cater to our parents, allowing ourselves to be controlled, bullied, insulted or manipulated.
But we aren’t children anymore. We don’t need our parents for survival. And in most cases, the only person who can fill the void of the mother or father you wish you had is you.
Catering to the person, whether a parent or someone else, might be the right approach if you’re trying to protect the status quo, but it’s likely not healthy for you and in most cases, it’s not healthy for the person or people making you unhappy either; by leaving their behavior unchecked, they continue in their own negative patterns and you help enable their toxicity.
If you’re looking for it, consider this your permission to rethink setting boundaries this holiday season.
In my family, my husband and two children are my bubble, but I’ve also extended our bubble to our entire home. I consider the energy in our home very sacred — it’s a place of safety, joy, positivity and unconditional love. We’re incredibly mindful in protecting it, and anything or anyone that doesn’t match with the energy we’ve created has no place in our home. It’s not personal. It’s simply a boundary we’ve set.
Once you’ve set the boundary to put yourself first, it’s up to the other person to decide how to move forward. You give them the option to adjust, and if they don’t, that’s their choice. Try not to get attached to the outcome. Your role is to protect your bubble.
Examples of boundaries are…
- Negative language (criticism, racism, sexism, profanity, gossip, etc.) isn’t allowed in our home
- Our children aren’t allowed to eat dessert before dinner
- “Just because” gifts or certain kinds of toys (plastic, violent, gender-role based toys, etc.)aren’t allowed in our home
- Do not direct body-image related comments to our children
- Do not wear outside shoes in our home
- Do not smoke in our home
There needs to be clear implications to violating these boundaries, such as “You won’t be invited back to our home,” “I won’t be able to have a relationship with you” or “Our children won’t be able to come visit you.”
If the idea of setting a boundary leaves a pit in your stomach, know that you’re not alone. This type of personal work is incredibly challenging but also completely transformative. Shedding old beliefs about yourself and stepping into your power will have a profound impact on your life, your relationships, your career and your happiness.
When having these difficult conversations, some of the basic pieces of advice that have worked for me are:
- Prepare (for me, preparing some “talking points” in advance helps me feel empowered)
- Use clear, simple, direct language
- Don’t engage in debate; just state the facts
- Keep the encounter short
- Embrace grounding techniques to get out of your head and into your body before and after the encounter, particularly breathwork and feeling your feet
- Visualize what you’re gaining, not what you’re losing
- Focus on how you feel, not how another person feels
Here are two of my favorite resources on the topic:
- Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, episode 399 – Whole30’s Melissa Urban offers practical strategies for establishing healthy boundaries
- Discovering the Inner Mother by Bethany Webster – This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time. It will change the way you look at the world, help heal old wounds and find a power you didn’t know had been taken from you. Despite the title, this book is not just for women.
I offer my most heartfelt support for you in this journey!