Setting Boundaries with Family & Friends
As a therapist one of my favorite lessons to share with clients is we teach people how we want to be treated. Pregnancy and the expected arrival of a new little one can bring forth a range of reactions from family and friends, some which may be overwhelming to deal with.
Boundaries, by definition, show where one thing ends and another starts. If we think of physical boundaries we may think of fences, state lines and geographical markers. Personal boundaries are your thoughts, feelings, and actions, as well as being able to separate ourselves from others. In pregnancy and even in raising our children, the importance of boundaries becomes clear. We need others, but we also need ourselves. Setting boundaries helps us define what is ours, what are our expectations, and what we are okay or not okay with. Being able to communicate these boundaries with others is also crucial in our ability to live according to our values and wishes.
You Come First
You and only you are responsible for your well-being and happiness. This may come as a tough lesson for many of us – leaving us feeling resentful and angry when our boundaries are crossed or we put others’ needs and requests before ours. Many of us struggle with being assertive with our needs which can often be traced back to earlier learned communication and relationship patterns. Remember that your needs are also your baby’s needs and that even the most independent person may require help at some point. When setting boundaries, we focus on being assertive or communicating clearly and concisely.
You Can’t Control Others but You Can Control You
Try as we might, we will never be able to control other’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Often our need to be in control comes from anxiety and cognitive distortions, or unhelpful thinking patterns. We see people respond differently to pregnancy and the expected arrival of a baby. Some may see their involvement as helping, but without direction and boundaries this can become overwhelming and often irritating. Pregnancy can also be a great time to lean into your relationship with your partner as partners can be effective in setting and reinforcing boundaries.
Frequently in these situations it’s helpful to remind yourself that people are not mind readers and will often do things without thinking until direction or feedback is given.
Setting Boundaries Through Communication
When setting a boundary, we often focus our communication on ourselves using I statements. Refrain from saying “you” or overgeneralizations such as “you always” or “you never.” The next time you need to set a boundary try the following conversation starters:
“I appreciate ___, however ___”
“I feel ___ when you ___”
“Going forward, I need ____”
Patterns of all-or-nothing thinking, personalization and emotional reasoning may cause us to believe that setting boundaries is “wrong” or may cause disapproval by others. However, remaining assertive – firm but gentle with our needs – allows us to communicate effectively while still respecting others. If you are uneasy about setting boundaries and communicating your needs, try practicing with your partner or someone you already know is a good listener. Practice communicating your thoughts, feelings, and emotions with them. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish but essential to you and your baby’s wellbeing during this amazing and wonderful time.
A Special Note for Those with Strained Relationships
With any major life change such as marriage, pregnancy, and death, we find that strained family relationships tend to become even more strained under increased stress. Many come away from these experiences with memories that may be traumatic and may cause us to further remove ourselves from these relationships. This is normal as no one desires to continue subjecting themselves to hurt or mistreatment. If you find yourself in these situations, giving yourself permission to distance yourself from these relationships may be in your best interest short-term, with long-term evaluation when needed. What we tolerate, what we condone, and what we stay silent on will be perceived as acceptable by others and likely repeated until a boundary is communicated.
Throughout this holiday season, you may choose to limit time or remove yourself from events, spend more time with those who do value and respect you, and even create new traditions with others.
Setting Boundaries in Strained Relationships May Look Like:
- Saying “no” to requests that do not fit within your values or plans
- Spending one-on-one time with family members and loved ones versus large group gatherings
- Limiting time – arriving late and/or leaving early for engagements you do choose to attend