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Why Are Boundaries So Hard to Establish?

When I get certain questions, I go look at the person’s profile. Even while running a large platform where so many people share common pain, I naively think “Not you too?”

This person has a kind face. A calm and subtle smile. He shows his age and location, and like all of us, you would never know he is struggling to establish boundaries with his family.

Isn’t that all of our stories? Showing up in the world, and giving enough of ourselves for connection, observation even, but living in a way where no one would know the grievance that lives in our day to day lives.

I don’t say this with judgment by any means. I say it with longing. For this person, for all people who are carrying a burden far greater than their social media profiles would let on, you are not alone…in any of it.

So, how hard is it to put up boundaries with an entire family–parents and multiple siblings?

It’s like telling your boss you have worked under for thirty years, that you are no longer reporting to him for duty, and you have figured out a different work schedule that is better for you.

It’s like telling your closest friends you are no longer going to see them on the schedules you have before and knowing that if you tell them why, you will lose them forever, so you come up with the right mix of words so you can keep them in your life, but also try to stop suffering.

It’s like showing up to the first day of school and not having your lunch, and realizing you skipped the orientation and have no idea which class you are in.

I talk a lot about family. My experience has not been a positive one. But, I value family. A lot.

The pattern I see often is when an entire family sees one person as the problem and that one person is often the one feeling broken by how the family works.

So, after years of trying to toughen up (to adapt better to harsh criticism, and being ignored), and trying to be more like the family (while being told your growth is unwanted), you start to live in the tension between growth/health vs. the potential loss of everything familiar.

I have never met someone who wanted to be estranged from their family. Ever.

I have met hurting people who desperately wanted their parents to understand how much they have been impacted by their harmful actions.

I have met hurting people who have wanted their siblings to agree that the abuse they endured may have been their normal, but it was in fact, not normal.

And I have met hurting people who are being blamed for hurting while everyone else stands back and says, “Huh? We are fine. You are living in the past. Move on. Family is everything.”

And so, that hurting person has more hurt because they have experienced enough healing to know their family is going to break them if they do not tell them they are no longer playing the role they have them in.

The one who is fine when they are not.

The one who is problematic for feeling differently about family dynamics.

The one who brings stuff up that the family has tried to explain they are not willing to be honest about.

The one who….is hurting.

And honest about the hurt.

This is the reddest of flags: to see someone attempting to grow, heal, be honest, and move about the world differently because the way their family has operated is breaking them, and for family to criticize that.

This is what cowards do. They attempt to break those who will walk farther without them.

They are looking inward and seeing the role they have them playing and they need people to play those roles for their denial to remain intact.

Healing, seeing it, and experiencing it is about a whole new world outside of the pain, confusion, heartache, and limitations of a dysfunctional family.

It’s not to say that you will not still experience dysfunction in this world, but you will be seeing it from a place of openness and awareness, rather than a dependence on it to support you.

And, the more healing that happens, the more external exposure, the more you see, the less impact your family will have because you are letting them know you are not in their lives to fulfill the ideas they have about you.

Families have roles. And many of them are normal roles, like father, mother, sister, brother, and friend. But then, the toxic family turns sister into the golden child and brother into the scapegoat, and suddenly, you are meant to pretend you are still sister when you feel disconnected from genuine care. You are supposed to feel like a brother, but you feel no care at all.

These roles grow into adulthood. They are often rooted from very early on, and it’s from all of us trying to find comfort in the world we know. We adapt. And adapt. And adapt.

And then, that role (and its icky inner dialogue) has led us to allow others to take advantage of us, and as hard as that is, and as much as you want to go to family and share the heartache, you are met with the reminder that you are the problem.

What will the boundaries do?

The boundaries will give you breathing room to allow your family to operate without you playing the role that keeps hurting you.

The boundaries will allow you to move about without interruption to actions you are taking to better understand your health and what you need to heal from.

The boundaries will be the thing that mutes their voice in the moments you needed kindness and they shamed you.

The boundaries will pull you out of their internal world, and give you a world of your own.

This will be hard. And you will feel like you are crazy, and they will feel good about that. But over time, you will have another little glimpse into an external world outside of your family, and you will see that there are others that see your softness and your longing, and you will trust that is enough to take the next step.

And in that next step, you will take another step, and then another, and someday you will look at your family and with full acceptance, you will see your strength and know who you are with or without them, and see that as the role you had always longed to fulfill.

I will repost this quote soon, and when I do, assume it is for you as a reminder that you have never walked this part of your path alone.

“Family is everything.”

No, healing is. And if the family is who caused the trauma, they don’t always get to participate in the healing.

Peace and compassion.

I’m so glad you’re here.


PS: In August, my online group will be diving into the scapegoat role for a two-part series. We just finished our two-part series on shame. Also, all of our members will be included in our four-week course of Healing the Younger You, which is coming in September. Make sure you grab a spot on the waitlist here to be notified when registration opens.


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