Completely Avoiding Your Toxic Family Members Might be Unhealthy Too (Part 2)
In the last blog we discussed how to determine if/when it’s necessary to cut off your toxic family members. I want to be sure that it is clear that there are certain circumstances when it might be necessary to call it quits for good. The determining factors mentioned in my last blog included: If you are in physical danger, you have NOT been able to identify a behavioral pattern, and there is absolutely no benefit to keeping this family member in your life. If these things apply to you, it might be time to let the family member go, but if you are not in physical danger, you have been able to identify a behavior pattern, and there is some kind of benefit to keeping this family member in your life, we are now ready to discuss how to set appropriate boundaries with the family member in order to minimize risks to yourself.
In relationships, we tend to strive to minimize the number of risks and maximize the number of rewards. This means that we want to practice behavior that will benefit us the most and cut out behaviors that will cause us detriment. When a person is rewarded for specific behavior, they are likely to do more of whatever he or she was rewarded for. You as an adult have the power to reward certain behaviors that you would like to see more of from your family members.
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An important way to set a boundary is to utilize effective communication. This means that you have to communicate to your family member (in a way that they will understand) the behaviors that they engage in that make you feel uncomfortable but also the behaviors that make you feel good. This does not have to be some awkward or formal conversation. It can be as simple as saying “uncle Reed I don’t like when you drink too much because you start to say things that are hurtful. I like it a lot better when you are sober”. This is the vocalization of your boundary. It would be even better to go a step further and let the family member know what you’ll have to do in response if he or she ever decided to cross the boundary that you have set. You could say, “if you continue to drink too much around me, I will have to decline your future party invitations and family get togethers from this point forward”. There you have it; you have set a boundary. Uncle Reed now knows that you have set a boundary and he knows what you are prepared to do if he decides to ever cross the boundary that you have set.
It is very important to follow through on a boundary that you have set to show your family member that you are serious. If you make a declaration, you must commit to it. Your family member can’t take your boundaries seriously if you don’t. Sometimes it’s hurtful to you to actually follow through on your own boundary because you might not want to miss out on the family get togethers or spending time with that family member in particular, but once those boundaries are understood and followed, it will make for a much better relationship in the future.
Another thing to consider when practicing your boundary setting is to acknowledge when the family member has actually made efforts to adhere to the boundaries that you have set. Communicate your appreciation of him or her in a way that will feel rewarding to them. You know what will make your family members feel rewarded. It is okay to show appreciation for a boundary that has been considered and respected. It is actually a crucial part in increasing the likelihood of the desired behavior to continue. If that family member receives some sort of benefit from changing their behavioral patterns, they will be more likely to make the effort.
One final thing to consider with setting boundaries with a family member is that he or she might decide that they will not adhere to your boundaries and disregard them completely. In this case, you will have to determine if the risks are worth the rewards in this relationship. This is a very challenging thing to consider because you can’t always quantify risks and rewards. This is something that you might want to discuss with a trusted and non-biased person. This could be a close family member or friend that you trust. A good fit counselor would be ideal for this type of discussion as well. Your counselor can help you to consider all of your options and the pros and cons of each. Your counselor can also help you identify ways to determine how to measure the risks and rewards to help you put things into perspective.
As we grow older, we realize how important family is and how important it is to maintain healthy relationships with them. Utilizing these tools can be helpful.