Tag: boundaries

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 25, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I am absolutely fed up with my mother-in-law. She has spent pretty much my entire marriage to her son criticizing me as a wife and mother. My husband used to defend me more but has given up saying his mom won’t change her ways so it’s not worth the fight. Recently she called me a “lazy mom” in front of our ten-year-old. Our daughter cried on the way home and said she doesn’t want to see grandma anymore. My husband brushed it off. I’m furious as my daughter deserves to see him stick up for me (and her) and should not be exposed to that. I want to have a discussion with my husband but see red every time I start to gear up for it. How can I discuss this without making matters worse?

Answer: This is an important question to which so many can relate. You would like to not be criticized by your mother-in-law. You would like to be supported by your husband when there are problems between your mother-in-law and yourself. And you want healthy behavior about relationships and respect, to be modeled for your daughter.

Relationships with in-laws and parents are so significant. When troubled, they can be like a tormenting drip, drip, drip of a faucet or they may be like walking through a field with dangerous mines all around, always waiting for an explosion. The criticism can be at the table for every family gathering. When good, however, they can add richness to your life and the lives of your children. All your family relationships can be impacted by this difficulty with your mother-in-law. It can be helpful to see a counselor, a neutral party, to help you sort it out.

“Seeing red” when you want to talk with your husband is not getting the problem solved. Keep in mind that your goal is to help him understand what you need from him. If you go about this angrily or in an accusatory fashion, he will stop listening. Also, remember that he is in the middle. His mother may have been critical all his life, and he may feel powerless to think she can change. He will need some tools to be able to help and counseling may help the two of you stand together to resolve this.

Learning about setting boundaries is one way of making improvements. I encourage you to get a book or do an internet study on how to set boundaries or ask the counselor to help you with this. Learning to set boundaries helps you know what to do when you are not respected. The result of healthy boundaries is that slowly you will begin to gain respect. One of my favorite sayings about boundaries is “people use the people they can use and respect the people they cannot use.” If your mother-in-law can get you upset, cause you to storm out, and leave you hurting then she is the one who is in control. You can say to your mother-in-law, “I value our relationship and your time with your granddaughter, but I cannot allow you to speak to me in that way especially in front of her. Please speak to me with respect or we will need to leave.” If she continues and you allow it, she remains in control. Instead, quietly gather your things and your daughter and let her know you are leaving. No drama, no tears, just leave.

This learning process also includes evaluating those areas in which you may be contributing to the discord between the two of you. You cannot ask to be spoken to with respect unless you also speak and treat her with respect. Most often in these situations, everyone needs to do better.

Lastly, it may sound odd, but try to ignite feelings of love and kindness towards her. You can do this by looking at her life. Is she lonely, hurt, depressed; does she have needs that are not met, or were never met? People often push away the people they need most by the things they say and the things they do. Creating kind thoughts for her may help you connect with her in a more meaningful way. This takes practice, but modeling this for your daughter can have a big payoff for everyone.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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What are boundaries?

There are two types of boundaries that you should create for yourself: external and internal. External boundaries are guidelines that determine how you allow others to behave towards you. Internal boundaries maintain balance, exhibit self-discipline and allow you to manage your time, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Both types are meant for your protection and well-being and should be based on your values.

Where to implement boundaries

Healthy boundaries should exist in all aspects of your life. Consider the following areas:

Physical: applies to your personal space, privacy and your body. This includes sexual boundaries and determine the what, where, when, how and with whom of sexual activity.
Possessions: determines whether or not you lend or give away personal belongings.
Spiritual: relates to your beliefs and experiences with God, a higher power, nature, etc.
Mental: relates to your thoughts, values and opinions.
Emotional: applies to your emotions, feelings and behaviors.

Do I need boundaries?

Yes, everyone needs boundaries for good mental health. If you’re able to take accountability for your feelings and actions, especially as they relate to other people’s feelings and actions, it’s a sign that you have strong internal boundaries. If you often feel resentment, anger, anxiety or feel taken advantage of it could indicate weak external boundaries and that you’re consistently being pushed past your own limits and values.

In order to set boundaries for yourself, you need to know what they are. These are determined by your core values. Are you unsure of what your values are? Now is the perfect time for self-reflection. Tune into your feelings, your past experiences and how you want to show up in the world. What matters most to you? What are you unwilling to compromise on? Use meditation, prayer, journaling or being in nature to allow for a space of self-awareness. These realizations may not all come immediately. That’s okay—have patience and continue showing up for yourself.

Why set personal boundaries?

Creating, setting and following through with personal boundaries will help maintain your mental health. Boundaries can also help you grow, save your emotional and mental energy, and act as a form of self-care.

How to set boundaries

Making boundaries for yourself can be difficult to do at first, but it shows that you take responsibility for your mental health. Try the following:

  • Look to your core values
  • Follow your instincts
  • Be assertive and consistent
  • Learn to say “no”
  • Communicate clearly
  • Start small
  • Seek support if needed

Being consistent with implementing external and internal boundaries will increase your self-esteem, conserve emotional energy, and create more independence in your life. Once you’ve made boundaries known in your life, it’s natural for people to test them. Don’t falter. We all have different values and boundaries and we all deserve to have them respected. Honor your needs and make yourself the priority.

 

 

 

 

Sources: psychcentral.com; mindbodygreen.com; healthline.com

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