The Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim
E17 - I'm Afraid of Setting Boundaries with My Parents
No matter how old you are, if your toxic parents are invading your life in a way that makes you feel they are in control and you are not, it can be extremely difficult to define what you need to do to tear up that script and begin writing a new one.
It’s critically important that you understand that you can overcome this invasion, put up these healthy boundaries, and prioritize yourself in a way you never have before.
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How's it going, everybody? Welcome to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim, part of the Mental Health News Radio Network. New episodes are available every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform.
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A lot of people are uncomfortable with setting boundaries because, more often than not, letting someone know where your limit is can cause a lot of anxiety; it can be difficult to not say no and to always say yes; and for many people it’s a matter of self worth and trying to please everyone to make up for that because their worth is so low.
Now we all know the importance of setting boundaries. Well, at least healthy people understand this, and they are mindful whether it’s for themselves or others in their lives. We’ve set boundaries with all of the important people in our lives–siblings, friends, colleagues, and so on. Hopefully, people learned how to do this in a positive way from their parents.
But what happens if you didn’t learn that from your parents? What happens when your parents cross YOUR boundaries so often that they don’t even know where that line is? How does it make you feel to know that your parents don’t respect what that is, that their respect for that is so low that the concept of that line goes over their head?
There can be and so often there is a fear of setting boundaries with people, especially your parents. This happens when they are toxic, and their toxicity is so far reaching that they thrive on the conflict this can create, they live for the needless discomfort, and they feed off the negative energy that they create when it comes to their relationship with you.
That doesn’t make it OK, and it definitely doesn’t mean this is something you tolerate. That fear you have? It was planted there on purpose. That’s one of the ways they have control over you. So what do you do?
With that, today’s episode is titled “I’m Afraid of Setting Boundaries with My Toxic Parents.”
The unhealthy boundaries you have with your toxic parents feeds into a narrative that can change and grow over time; it’s designed to put them in a positive light and you in a negative light. Why do they do this? It’s because their toxic behavior is partially designed to have you build resentment toward them, to not have enjoyable interactions with each other, and rid yourself of the identity you would normally build for yourself and assume the identity they want you to have instead.
They need to impose their beliefs and ways of life on you because they think they know more than you about everything, no matter what stage of life you’re in and no matter how unique your experiences are compared to theirs. If you happen to bring up a topic that they don’t know much about, they will quickly diminish what you know and toss it aside because it’s not useful or beneficial for them to be in a spot that is not superior to you.
They disguise their disrespect of you by saying that they want the best for you, that they’re only looking out for you, and make you think that you need to rely on them in order to survive.
So the control that they’ve assumed over your life is so they can define everything for you and dictate which friends you’re allowed to have, what you should be eating, and what you should be doing with your life–both personally and professionally.
They manipulate their way by rewriting history and twisting your experiences so that they are the hero and you’re the one who shit the bed.
Their cruelness is designed to disregard all of your feelings because they really don’t give a damn no matter what they say that opposes that. They need to hurt your feelings, either with their words or the intentions behind their words, in order to keep you inside this little box that they’ve created for you.
They put their feelings ahead of yours by trivializing what you say and what you feel. They will do anything to disregard anything about you and what you think.
In their eyes, you need to abandon anything you care about–your health, your relationships, your life goals–and instead rush to them to do whatever they want you to do instead, big or small.
When they’re with other people–friends, other family members including your siblings–they can appear to be happy. So happy that you wonder what you did wrong–because when they’re with you, they’re always angry, upset, and constantly demeaning you. There is never a real positive experience with them, and they can even take out their frustrations on you, verbally or physically; or immaturely use the silent treatment or make really mean, harsh comments about you.
Hopefully, you don’t have anything good to celebrate around them–because they will ruin that moment and instead make it all about them. That weight you lost? It was because of their advice. That promotion or raise you got? It’s because they guided you to get there. That healthy relationship you’re in? It’s because they taught you how to be a good person. Everything is about them, and anything good you’ve achieved in your life wasn’t because of what you did for yourself.
Those times that something bad happened? They probably shifted the blame on you. It was your fault because EVERYTHING is your fault. They didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. As a matter of fact, you probably screwed them out of something good happening. They’re the victim here.
They don’t want you to speak to them about setting boundaries because they want to continue to sneak, snoop, and even barge their way into your business no matter what it’s about because they need to know absolutely everything you’re up to; and they need to know every one of your moves. Why? There are many reasons, but one of the big ones is their lack of control over their own lives; and so to assume some type of control to make themselves feel better about themselves, they need to control you.
So, obviously, the thing that needs to happen is to set healthy boundaries, but that can be difficult for a lot of people; it definitely was for me. It’s probably uncharted territory, right? Maybe you never had to do this and feel discombobulated on how to start. So how do you start?
The first thing you do is sit with yourself, clear your mind, and as difficult as it can be… put those emotions aside, just for a moment, and get clear and be conscious of what your boundaries are. It’s important to identify them because you need to start breaking the cycle where you allowed anyone to step into your life with no regard to your privacy and allowing them to continue to disrespect you.
You constantly were saying yes, either literally or figuratively. Yes, you can invade my privacy. Yes, you can stick your nose in my business. Yes, you can tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Stop. Stop all of that immediately. How? Start saying no. No, you’re not allowed to know these intimate details of my life. No, you’re not allowed to tell me what to do anymore. No, I’m not going to follow what you think is good advice for me when you don’t even really know who I am.
You might even need to start saying no more than you’d think because not only were you saying yes, but you were even offering more on top of whatever those requests were. It’s not fair to you to stretch yourself so far; it’s not healthy for you to spread yourself so thinly. At the expense of what? Who suffers from all of this? You do.
Don’t fall for their manipulation of you starting to stand up for yourself. When they guilt-trip you–and they will–remind yourself that that’s all bullshit. It’s their way to have the type of access to you that you are not allowing now.
The thing about saying no is sometimes you’re going to disappoint people. But the unique thing with toxic parents is when you say no to them, seeing and hearing their disappointment is one of the things that lets you know that it’s working. You starting to set up that boundary is not what they want, so when you start building it, why would they be happy? They won’t be, so keep doing it.
Sometimes you may even seek their approval. You don’t need their approval because that is one of the ways that they make your self worth dependent on what they think of you. You don’t need them to tell you who you are, what you’re capable of, and what you should be doing with your life. Maybe you don’t have all of that figured out yet, but you can’t and shouldn’t put that on people who aren’t looking out for your best interest.
Get on that journey of figuring out what makes you happy. You’re going to stumble here and there, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s part of the process. Just keep going. Shut out the white noise, and listen to your instinct on what you should be doing and what it may take to get there. Not that you can’t seek guidance, but the answers you need are already inside of you. You just need to listen.
Be happy with doing what you want, and don’t listen to any of what they might say to take you off that path. You have free will, and it’s your responsibility to exercise it. The cost of your happiness is going to be their unhappiness with you, and you know what? That’s OK, because that’s how it’s supposed to be in this dynamic.
One of the bigger reactions you’ll get out of this change of behavior of yours is lots of arguing. This probably will spark multiple arguments because part of their identity is holding onto that ego of having a very specific dynamic with you, so when you not only threaten but begin to exercise a significant change to that, they’re going to freak out and make you put things back to the way they were. Don’t do it!
On the rare occasion, they may want to legitimately hear you out and understand why things are changing. If they’re willing to sit with you and have you explain what’s going on and how things are going to be in the future, take advantage of that. This could reveal something to them that they are unaware of, and we should always be trying to be better versions of ourselves.
But what if they don’t want to have that conversation? You don’t need to explain yourself, you don’t need to clarify anything, and you need to resist the urge of having your voice be heard by people who don’t want to listen to you anyway.
What do you do after that? This may be difficult for some of you, but what you must do is spend less time with them. This reduces the windows of opportunity to attempt to gain that access back, and it helps you to continue to build and recover without their interference. You don’t need to hear them invalidate you or tell you that you’re overreacting.
So that means less visits, less phone calls, and less tagging or whatever on social media. If you happen to to be under the same roof, do something that gets you out of that house. Spend some quality time with friends, your partner, learn new hobbies, spend time in nature. Whatever it is, do something productive because it’s all part of your healing process as you continue to create this separation.
In extreme cases, like mine, you may need to sever ties with them completely. If they’re so toxic that their presence creates a vibe that is unhealthy for you, then you know what you need to do. I know it sounds simplistic, and I also know that it’s not easy, but you owe it to yourself to do it. You need to be able to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others, and so other people can also take care of you. Your toxic parents are not part of that group.
Learn to understand that you can’t control them; you can’t change them; you can’t help them be better. It’s not even your responsibility. Come to terms with who they are, and know that it’s not your fault. For whatever reason they are the way they are, you need to accept that so you can better understand how your interactions with them should be and how often you should allow them into your life.
So after you do all of this, don’t think that they’re just going to sit back and accept this new behavior of yours. This new behavior where you’re taking charge of your life, as you should, and setting these ground rules for your own health, your sanity. Expect retaliation. I can almost guarantee you that it’s coming.
Their toxicity knows no limits, so when they start projecting, don’t let that shock you. Don’t allow yourself to respond to that emotionally. They could get nasty. They could try to belittle you to you and others; anyone who will listen. You’re no longer allowing them to get their way; you’re bruising their ego, and they will do anything they can to protect that ego. The good news is nothing is going to stop you from continuing on this path to a happier you.
And if those attacks don’t work? The next viable option for them is to guilt trip you. Their manipulation of you is so dialed in that you have to make sure that you’re being mindful about this; be ready for that onslaught. They’ll talk about how they take care of you; the sacrifices they made for you; and you not being thankful or appreciative of that. Bullshit. Don’t fall for it. You’re building up those boundaries, and it’s working.
If you’re a younger listener, a teenager, I can remember a time when I was around your age when I had an epiphany: just because my parents were my age and going to school and so on doesn’t mean that they understand the way the world is today. My parents didn’t even understand that concept. Take this advice with you, and do what I wish I would have done–sit them down and talk to them from a place of peace. Listen and respond accordingly. If you can show this level of maturity, and if they’re reasonable enough, this conversation will lead to more conversations where everyone can learn and grow.
If you’re closer to my age or even older than me, you probably understand that your elderly parents still see you as a little kid. My parents treated me like I was 12. I had to take that thinking away from them. They didn’t like it. It won’t be enough to use words to show you’re serious. Act on what you know is right, and let them see it. I’m not saying they’ll come around, but that’s not the point. The point is you’re in control of your life, not them.
I’m still learning this myself, but you need to understand that you are a priority. You matter. The things that you do in your life, the way you enjoy the things you do, all of that means something. So your fight in this toxic environment is essential to your health. I know it can be frustrating, aggravating, and tiring, but believe me it’s worth it.
Be clear with them that you are putting yourself first because it’s vital to your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Setting up these boundaries, and forcing people to respect them, is critical to gaining control of your life–maybe for the first time–and breaking free of those chains that they put you in so long ago. This sets you up to find and build on your identity. So continue to take care of yourself, and these boundaries will help you become the healthiest version of yourself.
All right, guys. Thanks for listening to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to spread the word on social media and check out www.shaunkarim.com.