Thursday, April 13, 2017

Boundaries and Bloodlines

Boundaries are necessary, helpful, even reassuring. But they can be challenging to put in place.
Between family members especially, clients may report feeling guilty or selfish when they set
limits to protect themselves or establish healthier dynamics.


While there are innumerable reasons to set boundaries, people may feel that saying “no” to
family members will damage the relationship or indicates a lack of loyalty. As therapists, we
encourage clients to honor the bonds that are important to them, but not to blindly assume that
a genetic link to another requires the client to sacrifice their time, energy, will or happiness for
the sake of someone else. We don't automatically owe family members our allegiance --
certainly, many clients come to therapy with a history of abusive or unhealthy family
relationships. As in relationships with friends, spouses and coworkers, the most fulfilling and
effective family dynamics are laced with respect, communication and mutual investment. Pulling
the “but we’re related! ” card is, at best, a weak argument for why we should agree/do
for/support a family member, and, at worst, a toxic manipulation that uses guilt and obligation to
get the desired reaction. Accepting less-than-respectful treatment from family members just
because they are family doesn't display loyalty or commitment to the family over self, but
minimizes the inherent value of people on both sides. Respecting our needs as equal to others
-- even the “others” within our family tribe -- can enhance the health of relationships, model
self-respect, even provide a safety net to prevent unequal power distribution. Firm, clear, yet
flexible boundaries can actually provide the structure for family members to deepen their
connections and feel safe within relationships that may be the longest lasting in our lives.

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