3 min

Creating Boundaries With Kindness

The dreaded annual family vacation is here. 

In the months leading up to the trip my anxiety rises and the hypothetical scenarios and conversations play on a loop in my head. I try to stop it. I try not to think about it. But it’s like when I lay in bed at night trying to sleep and tell myself, “Think happy thoughts. Don’t think about scary things, like that scene in Saving Private Ryan when the good guy and the bad guy are fighting and you think the good guy is going to win but in the end, the bad guy gets on top of him with a sword and before he kills him the good guy pleads, ‘Wait wait wait!’”

Ugh. It’s so horrible. Don’t think about that scene. 

But as soon as I tell myself not to think about it, I think about it. The entire thing. And then my heart is pounding and I’m mad all over again at my ex-boyfriend for making me watch that stupid, stupid movie and there’s no chance of falling asleep in the next 20 minutes. 

The same thing happens when I try to not think about family interactions.

I used to plan intelligent responses to put my family in their place (never works). Now I try to think how I can best react without anger but also not ignoring. Ignoring is even worse than snapping back because then the anger and resentment spreads through my body like water filling up a balloon. It eventually pops.

I want to be Buddha. I want to be understanding. I want to believe that when my family says hurtful things it’s because of their own unhappiness and insecurities. And knowing that should give me peace. 

But when I’m around them my rational brain is overtaken by my ego. I want to be liked and respected and supported by my family. Is that really too much to ask??? So rather than be vulnerable because I’m convinced it won’t be met with empathy or kindness, I resort to the easier reaction - anger and defensiveness. Always. 

But anger and defensiveness was so five years ago. I’m way too happy in my life to feel this insecure. 

So this week I’m going to try something new and practice gratitude and (eek!) creating boundaries with kindness. When a family member says something that makes me want to snap at them I’m going to run through a checklist:

  1. Three deep breaths with the mantra, “They’re dealing with their own unhappiness and insecurities.”
  2. What is their perspective? Do I actually feel they’re being malicious or is it really just all they know? 
  3. If it bothers me enough that I want to create a boundary, verbally address their perspective first. 
  4. Then, WITH KINDNESS, CHARLIE, explain why what they said hurt my feelings or why I disagree with what they said.  

I do worry there could be some snags with Step 3 to address the other person’s perspective first because what if I completely disagree with or don’t understand their perspective? Especially if it comes out of my brother-in-law’s big, patronizing mouth? 

Sorry. That wasn’t very Buddha of me. 

If I’m struggling with Step 3 I need to go back to Step 1. “They’re dealing with their own unhappiness and insecurities.” In other words, it’s not about me. Knowing that in my brain and feeling it in my body is not something that’s going to happen overnight. 

But I’m going to keep trying until one day, the annual family vacation is not something I dread, but something I look forward to.