This week, I’m talking with Mary Tate from Tate Psychotherapy about toxic families and how to create boundaries with people. Setting boundaries is important for our mental health, and the health of everyone around us, but it can be tricky to navigate. Every family is so different, but we’re here to help you navigate whatever situation you’re in and find the best solution. Mary and I tackled tons of different scenarios and plans, including why creating a pro-con list can be your best friend, and how sometimes we just need to divorce our family. If you’re struggling with setting up boundaries, or working to keep them in place, this week’s interview is for you!
As always, I’ll be chatting with everyone about the episode and what we learned on our UM Club Facbook page! Haven’t joined the UM Club yet? Make sure to check it out here for exclusive content and discussions. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the episode!
Today I am really excited to be talking with Mary Tate, from Tate Psychotherapy, who is going to teach us all about setting boundaries with toxic parents. Mary is a registered psychotherapist and has her own practice in New York City. She is an expert in setting up boundaries within our families and friends, and is going to let us in on her tips and tricks!
She received her undergraduate degree in Social Work at Western Carolina University, and a Masters of Social Work (MSW) at The University of South Carolina. Her clinical interests include treating anxiety, trauma, self-esteem and working with individuals who have chronic health conditions. She has experience with a variety of populations, ranging from children to adolescents to young adults, as well as families as a whole.
Mary’s Website: TatePsychotherapy.com
Mary’s Instagram: @TatePsychotherapy
In This Episode We Talk About
03:44 – Reasons why people need to create boundaries.
06:37 – How do you establish if you need to create boundaries, and what do those look like?
14:42 – What can different boundaries look like?
26:40 – Tips on how to uphold boundaries.
33:20 – Dealing with guilt.
41:15 – Talking to your kids about boundaries.
45:26 – Acknowledging that boundaries can be difficult.
Watch the Video
Listen to the Audio
Mary’s Website: TatePsychotherapy.com
Mary’s Instagram: @TatePsychotherapy
Read the Full Conversation
Hi! I’m so excited to be talking about toxic parents, which can also lead into just toxic families, friends, all of the skills and things that we’ll talk about today will be able to be used across the board for sure.
Yeah, I was thinking I’m really looking forward to hearing all of your knowledge, like we chatted about, this is a topic that comes up all the time. So it’ll be really nice to have someone that actually has education on this topic and regularly helps people with it.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And thank you. And a little bit about me and my background, so that you can get it get a better jist of what I kind do day to day, and where my experience from. So I’m a psychotherapist, and I’m trained as a clinical social worker. And I opened up my private practice here in New York City right before COVID. Not on purpose! So February 2020, I made the leap. Really, really kind of strange timing. But prior to my private practice, I’ve worked within the foster care system here in New York City, as well as in health care, mostly with the HIV population, and decided to make the leap into private practice to really just kind of focus on that individual work.
So did that in February 2020, and then, of course, COVID happened, which I am sure you can imagine that the mental health world also evolved significantly, more people reaching out for therapy more than ever. And by the time, let’s say, August 2020, I brought on a couple other therapists. So now we’re a small group practice. Here, we’re an all woman team. And I would say that while we don’t market to women specifically, majority of our clients are women, children, and families. And so that is kind of how we’ve adjusted. And we treat a variety of disorders. But most people are coming for anxiety, trauma, mood disorders, depression, family issues, marriage issues. And we also see a lot of new moms, which is – sometimes having a therapist that can allow you to bring your baby with you is definitely a huge perk. So that’s also something that we’ve been able to adapt to throughout the pandemic as well.
Yeah, wow, you have so much experience in this specific area. That was fantastic! And totally different topic, but I can imagine you have just gone through so much learning with doing your business and helping people in this way over the last couple of years, and launching right before COVID.
Yeah, still learning, still learning, and the telehealth versus in person. I’m sitting in my office, and we’re actually now in our second office, second in person. So more people are starting to get geared towards feeling more comfortable coming in, and having that separate space outside of your house is nice. So yeah, lots to learn on on both ends.
Yes, definitely. So let’s jump right into things. What are common reasons that you see your clients needing to put up boundaries with family?
Sure. Well, you know, families are systems, right? So I think when we look at families as systems – we’re in all kinds of systems, right? We’re in political systems, we’re in community systems, we’re in friend systems, schools; we’re around all of this, but our families also create this huge system around us, right? And where there’s a system happening, there’s going to be problems, in the same ways that in other areas of our life, they’re going to pop up. I would say, if I were to kind of list out a lot of the big reasons that family is a big issue, it’s gonna deal with manipulation, it’s gonna deal with judgment from family members, negativity, past abuse, that maybe isn’t present, but maybe these people in our life are still very present. Or people related to past traumas abuse who are still in our lives.
And also people in our families can also be the most judgey, they’re gonna be the ones looking at your lifestyle, and they might feel like they have the right to be able to tell you “I don’t like that, you shouldn’t do that.” They’re the worst comment section, because sometimes families can feel really empowered, like “well, I can tell you you’re a piece of crap, because I’m your family,” when that’s not necessarily true. You’re still a human being. And, of course, there are going to be some times where family should be real with someone and say “hey.” But other times, it’s much more about the person rather than you. And so that can be really hard, because boundaries, they take up a lot of space, and they take work. So that’s going to be the thing that puts you at risk from family members.
But also looking within yourself, and where you live kind of in your family unit, your family system, that can also say a lot about the type of boundaries that maybe are harder for you. And a lot of people that come to me that are like “my mom is this” or “my sister is this,” I’m also hearing a lot of times that we might be scared to tell them “no,” we might be scared to confront them. We might be people pleasers, we might not want conflict, because life just might be easier to not have that. And so that’s also a lot of the work we do too. Boundaries take a lot of self empowerment.
You touched on so many great things there. There’s so many different reasons why we could feel this push to put up boundaries for our own health and well being and for our families, and they look so different for everyone in every situation too. So how do you help people through the decision? I imagine, generally, it starts like, “this person’s always saying this,” or “I feel like this whenever I’m around this person.” So how do you help to go through that decision process of feeling a certain way to knowing you need to put up the boundaries? And what kind of boundaries to put up?
Sure. Well, kind of, like I mentioned,, putting up boundaries can be incredibly uncomfortable. And it can be painful, and sometimes it can ruin relationships, right? So like any type of action you’re going to do, where you’re doing something different, a lot of things that we do take risk, right? So by setting a boundary, you’re also setting a risk that you’re going to upset someone, that you might have a relationship that changes, you might not feel like it was good thing to do when the repercussion comes. So I think, first, you have to make sure that you are ready to be able to understand that by setting the boundary, your life is gonna change, and it may not all of a sudden be this magic moment. Right?
It can also cause more conflict before you get the nice reward part of the boundary. And all over social media – I see this all the time in posts – but typically, people will say things like “the person that gets upset when you set a boundary is usually the person that needed the boundary set.” Right? And that’s absolutely true. Because they’re the ones that are going to have to change the behavior that you’re wanting them to change.
But when I’m working with clients, and maybe there’s some ambivalence about “is it worth it? Should I just put up with it? Is this worth the work with having my kids involved, having my partner involved, or can I can just suffer?” And I think that as women, we’re very much trained that way to be like “you know what, I’ll put up with it, because I don’t want it to affect anyone else, let me just kind of deal with it, let me suffer in silence.” But if that doesn’t work, then it comes out in so many other ways. You’re going to be resentful. You’re going to take it out on other people in your family. You’re going to take it out on yourself, and you put yourself at more risks that you’re going to start believing the things that are negative about yourself for letting this happen. “Why did I allow this to happen? Why did I do this? Why am I catering when no one caters to me?”
And that’s no way to have a healthy relationship. That’s the recipe for not having healthy relationships. So kind of almost using a visualization and being able to envision your life if everyone did exactly what you wanted them to do. Realistically, right? Like, we can’t imagine that my husband brings me a million dollars, which I would love. But that’s not a good boundary for me to put in. Because he will never meet that, unfortunately.
So thinking about, for instance, a holiday. So holidays are coming up. If you could imagine the perfect holiday event with your family, what would that look like? And sometimes it can be hard for people to even imagine that, because they’re so quick to be like “well, that would never happen, because my mom would do this,” or “my sister would do that,” or “my brother would get drunk at dinner-” we think about all of these things. And those are the things that stick out as little red flags that need boundaries. So envisioning it – and it’s attainable, for the most part, right? There are going to always be exceptions to some boundaries. So when we’re thinking about if we’re needing a boundary around people who have addiction, if we have people in our lives that need to just physically not be there, because they’re unsafe, verbally, physically, emotionally, those aren’t necessarily things that we can kind of budge on, being like “my boundary is that you become a better person,” because we also can’t count on that. Right? Some of these boundaries have to be very absolute, and very black and white, in order for people to follow them. So thinking about a small event, birthday party, holiday; things that come up that you’re like “ah, I know that would never happen because of this.” And if you just think about it, make a list of all the things, that’s a really good place to start. And that’s where I start with a lot of clients.
Yeah, so it sounds like a lot of assessing the risks, assessing the situations you are in, and seeing those red flags. And kind of sitting with it, and knowing that you’re worthy of having change. And that, yes, there are risks, but the payoff is worth it, not only for yourself, but for those that are close around you too.
Yeah. And I think it’s important that boundaries are not punishment. And sometimes, especially in families, when someone sets a boundary, everyone can feel punished. So if we’re using an example of maybe there’s a mom that’s setting a boundary for her children. And during COVID, this one came up all the time. Maybe someone has a baby, and they have a newborn at home. And mom goes “okay, I’m gonna have some boundaries around who can come visit the baby.” And to family members that are so desperate and want to come meet the baby, they view these rules, maybe, as like “that’s outrageous, what’s wrong with us?” Or “she’s just not wanting us to be around the baby,” or “she’s always had it out for me,” when really, it has nothing to do with that. But her setting that boundary could immediately feel like punishment to the other people in her life.
And I think in that scenario, it’s also good to see that when you do set a boundary, who are the people that do kind of act out and throw tantrums, like a two year old, right? It’s very telling, and you can learn a lot about “okay, well, this is how you act for this. I’m not going to count on you for these other things in my life.” Or let’s imagine your kid falls in kindergarten, and has to go to the hospital or something. That’s not the person you’re going to call, because you remember how they reacted to you protecting something for yourself, or for your child, or for your spouse. So it is, you learn a lot about not just yourself, but other people too.
Definitely. And just being mindful of it and reflecting on it. It can be very telling in how you build off of things.
Totally, totally. Yeah, people show themselves and you have to believe them. I think that’s the Maya Angelou quote.
If they show you who they are, believe them. Yes.
Yeah, exactly. Don’t necessarily believe the words, believe the action.
So I’m sure this is a bit of a loaded question, but what can different boundaries look like?
Well, I think that there are, kind of what I mentioned, the absolutes are black and white, right? Those are going to be not necessarily the easiest ones to establish. But there’s also – in cognitive behavioral therapy, there’s this thinking distortion, that’s actually called black and white thinking. And that’s when people can only think like “I’m good, or I’m bad,” or “this was a success, or this was a failure,” not being able to see the gray in the middle, like “today was a bad day, but my life is really good.” Or, you know, “I didn’t get an A on this test, but my C will not pull my grade down.” So being able to see the gray in boundaries is also important too. Because there is going to be some risk, like we talked about, with making boundaries, and you don’t have to go to the full black and white version, all the time, of the boundary, to the most extreme. You can start kind of dipping your toes in the boundary pool before you get there. for some reasons.
And so some examples that, I would say, come up quite a bit that we go over, is maybe you have a family member, and going to their birthday party is going to be just incredibly awful for you. It could be the people there, it could be knowing that this person critiques what you’re wearing, or what your child’s eating, or how you’re doing anything, right? Maybe they’re just very critical. You can kind of assess and be like, “is it worth going at all?” Is it saying like “I’m never going to any more events with this person?” Or is the boundary like, “I’ll stop by, say, hi, hello, and I’ll leave.” Is the boundary like “I can’t even do that, I’m just going to send them a gift card in the mail and acknowledge them.” Or is it “this person is so manipulative and disrespectful to me, that I need to have a very direct conversation with them that I’m not interested in seeing them until there’s some acknowledgement of how they’ve treated me.”
Those are all examples of perfectly fine boundaries, all at kind of different levels. But that’s just based off of kind of this concept of one event. And with families, a lot of this comes up – we do a lot of events together! So that could be some example of some boundaries. Also can come with our children, or just who we want to be with our children. And when children are born, they can sometimes become tthis prized possession in the family, and everyone wants their share, and everyone wants their time. And similar to kind of the newborn during COVID, or non COVID. Being able to just have that boundary in place, maybe the boundary that you have for your parents is different than the boundary that you have for your siblings. Going off of who is respecting you, in general, in your life. And if those are people that, historically, have not been very respectful of you, they’re going to have different boundaries, too. So it may be that someone can come over and spend the night at your house with with the new born, but the other person, you would never do that, because they’ll trash your guestroom, and make more work for you. And I think that being able to look at just boundaries, and what you’re willing to accept, is also important.
If what you’re able to willing to accept, especially in relationship to toxic parenting, especially when we’re adult children, right? And we’re kind of in this a different phase with our parents, and being an adult child, that doesn’t necessarily register to our parents, right? They could still see us as like 15 years old and acting out. “What do you mean you’re not letting me come over and spend time with the grandkids” or “you’re not letting me come bring all of these toys that you didn’t ask for?” Or “you’re not letting me do all of these things that I want to do?” Because I’m your parent.
And that’s incredibly hurtful, because what’s not being respected is that you’re an adult and you’re a decision maker too. And so, with a lot of clients, this ultimate kind of boundary exercise is try to think about – and this is not related to marriage at all – but this concept of divorcing your family, right? And so if you’re having a hard time with thinking about boundaries, or naming what are these boundaries that you need to make, a divorce is a great example of a boundary setting event. So in a divorce, typically, who gets what, who spends time with who, where does the money go, who has custody of the kids, who kind of goes back and forth – all of that. And you also can divorce your – not technically or legally, but intellectually – you can think about boundary setting as like “okay, I’ve got to divorce myself from my family,” or “I’ve got to divorce myself from this person.” So what can I give them custody of? What can I, in this emotional agreement that I’ve made with myself – I can go to their birthday party, but I do not want to go on a girls trip with them. I can spend an hour on the phone with them once a week. But if they call me every day, wanting to just complain about something, I cannot answer.
It’s also important, and the thing that I think is the hardest, is telling someone about a boundary you’re placing. Because if you all of a sudden do it, and just start doing it, they’re probably gonna get really mad. So communicating a boundary, and maybe why you’re doing it, can be important too. So you can kind of avoid that backlash that often comes.
So if you’re setting a boundary about, I don’t know, maybe my mom calls me every day for an hour to complain about my dad. Let’s just say that. If I say like, “mom, it’s really hard, I’ve got a lot going on during the week, I want to talk to you, but it is also hard for me to hear that you’re just calling and talking crap about dad when I also love dad.” And so then saying “why don’t we schedule the time, once a week, just on Sundays at five o’clock, I will always be there, I’ll for the most part always be available for you, for us to have a talk.” That’s a boundary setting right there. And if she’s like “well, what do you mean you don’t have time for me?” Or “what do you mean? You always have time for me, I’m your mother.” That’s classic, kind of the tantruming of someone that does not like that boundary.
And on the opposite end, with boundary setting for maybe things that are not exactly behavioral things, are things that are deteriorating my mental health, or it’s too much. People that are truly making you feel horrible about yourself, or putting your own family, children, and spouse into unsafe situations. Or there are people that have hurt you in the past, and your family is not respecting a boundary of acknowledging that this person is hurtful to you, and they keep including them. So for instance, in an example of maybe there was some kind of abuse that occurred, maybe someone’s uncle abused them as a child and no one really accepted that, and everyone just expects you to just deal with it. Like it wasn’t dealt with then, but he still shows up to Christmas, or to grandma’s birthday party every year, and you have to see him. That’s where this idea of creating ultimatums can be very powerful. And ultimatums, you know, people say that’s they’re very unhealthy, but ultimatums are just another version of boundaries.
So you can say, “thank you so much for inviting me to Christmas dinner. But please know that if Uncle Joe is there, me and my children and my spouse will not be there.” So that is how that goes down. And that is a black or white, that is very black and white. The same with family members that have addiction, family members that treat you poorly. For instance, with addiction, it’s okay to say “look, I love this person, and I want them to feel better, but I have no interest in being in contact with them or being around them until they have at least six months of sobriety.” And that can, for people who are very caring and are wanting to help. that can feel really yucky to be like, “no, I cannot put up with that.” Or “maybe I should be kinder. maybe I should be more accepting or more nice.” You don’t have to be any of those things,, you can you can just be like, “no, I don’t I can’t do that.” So that’s a very long winded answer to your question.
So much great informating in there. I really like how you touched on relating it to divorce, because we’re setting up these boundaries with these people because we have some sort of relationship with them. So it really does make sense to look at it as a divorce; you are making a change to the relationship as you know it. And actually being intentional about that and thinking about, “okay, how am I affected? How can I put up boundaries? And how will it work for both of us?” And really going through that thought process of making those changes and kind of divying things up. I really like how you put that.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And in divorce – most people when they seek divorce, they’re wanting boundaries. They’re like “do not call me ever. You only get the kids on these holidays.” Right? But sometimes we can feel really empowered about boundaries. And I want people to feel that empowered with boundaries with other people too, and with themselves. You can create those without having to have this huge conflict, you don’t have to wait till conflict occurs to set a boundary. They can be preventive.
Yeah, exactly. I love that. It doesn’t have to be a rock bottom, super painful, traumatic experience to need to do these things.
Yeah, no, prevent it as much as you can by just saying “no, I don’t do that.” Be known for the person that does not do that thing that you do not like. That would be great.
So how do we go into – you touched on it a little bit. So tips for upholding these boundaries. I know one that comes up a lot is the pressure from the extended family, which you touched on a little bit. Especially with the big family events, or say a wedding, maybe with your parents you’ve set that boundary, you are not seeing them for whatever the reason is, and then their parents, your grandparents, are upset about it and pressuring you into things or threatening not attending. How do you navigate situations like that?
Well, that’s one – it’s very hard, right? Because in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need boundaries, everyone would just do exactly what we wanted all the time.
That would be so lovely!
That would be great. But I think that the number one success factor in having really tough boundaries, is to have someone that agrees with you. So if that’s having someone that when these moments get hard, you kind of need like a cheer. Sometimes we need a cheerleader to be like “no, remember all this stuff, like you knew this was gonna happen.” And so having a cheerleader and having support that you can reach out to to vent to, when you start to second guess, when you start to go, “oh, maybe I should…” Have someone there that is like “no, they absolutely deserve what you’re doing, and the boundary you’re making is because of this, this and this.”
I also think it’s important that you do that for yourself, too. So a lot of times when I work with clients, and we’re setting boundaries, I even do a true-pro con list. What are the pros of setting this boundary? What are the cons of setting the boundary? And in a moment where it gets really tough, I just remind them, pull up the con list of why this is going to be hard. If it’s worth having all of that again, then fine, don’t have the boundary then. Sometimes that can be really powerful, because you remind yourself. Are you ready in that moment to open that door back up? And if you are then you have to accept that. And maybe we need to talk about what is a more realistic boundary to put for yourself. Or maybe we need to kind of baby step your way into it a little bit better.
But those two things, I think, are the most important of being able to establish them. And also just to know where is the line crossed. So if there is someone that you’ve established a boundary for and their behavior gets worse and worse and worse, and you’re almost like “oh my gosh, setting the boundary has made this 20 times worse,” because now they’re acting really outrageous. Or they’ve made such a mess for me, or they’re purposely sabotaging me or harassing me because I made this boundary. Then that’s where like “okay, well, this is the decision we made. But do we need to have something that’s even worse?” Sometimes boundaries can involve police intervention, they can involve having to put more privacy things up for yourself. It can involve having to get assistance and ensuring that other family members are there to kind of protect you. And of course those are not the things that we think about. But sometimes it’s necessary.
Especially, you gave the example of a wedding, and a parent being cut off – it’s your day. And so sometimes also being a little passive. I’m the worst therapist ever, I’m like “be passive.” But it can be helpful. So for instance, in that case, if you’re paying for your own wedding, then offer “well, you know what, anyone can come to my wedding, if you pay for everything.” You know, saying “that’s great. Are you planning the wedding?” Kind of reminding them that this is your ballgame, and no one else’s. If they want to make decisions, then they can, if money talks. The thing that they don’t want to do, they just want to be the boss of? No, you can be passive and remind them that this is you, this is your life.
Yeah. And ultimately how they react to things is on them.
And you can say, “I’m having a wedding on this day, you are welcome to come. But if this upset you, it’s still happening. And I’m going to have a great time, because this is my wedding day. So you can come, you can not come. That’s why there’s an RSVP. You show up, or you don’t, I’ll be there in the white dress.” So also ensuring, for that example, that’s for you, that’s your day. It’s not your grandma’s day, or mom or dad’s day. That’s your day. So you get to be the ultimate deciding factor.
Yeah, and I really like how you talked about the cheering squad and that it would be helpful in this situation, and so many others. That’s something we should be putting in our divorce plan, is thinking about that right away. This is a process, there’s gonna be kind of tweaking of things and being okay that it’s not going to be perfect the first time that we’re gonna make the adjustments. But knowing that someone does have your back and can support you can be really helpful.
Yeah. And, like the divorce example. And some clients I’ve worked with, I’m like “let’s create a file. Why don’t you screenshot those really ugly texts or the horrible stuff, kind of like this evidence for you. So when you are in a moment where you have the pro con list, but you also have that evidence, and you can say “why don’t we reread all of those horrible things they said to you?” Or look that picture of you with them, where you clearly look very uncomfortable? Or written stories about things that they’ve said.
It’s the reminder of the why, which can help you feel empowered in your decision.
And then that kind of brings us into the guilt that can come with putting up these boundaries. And then sometimes in the situations where it is cutting off communication from people, grieving the loss of the family you pictured, the parental support you always wish you had. Those can be really hard things to process. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I think that every child born on planet Earth is supposed to have two loving parents and a family that loves them unconditionally. And any human being that does not get that is traumatic, in of itself. So if you are someone that does not have that, you can say that that is traumatic. And it is, because biologically, you know, nature versus nurture, we could go all into it, but that is what is expected of us. So when we don’t have that, even emotionally, it’s incredibly traumatic. And it also can lead to comparing oneself; maybe what your mom did, or what your dad did, isn’t as bad as what your friend’s mom did to her, right? So then that’s a great way to start feeling guilty. “Why am I setting this boundary when it really wasn’t that bad?” So guilt will help us with minimizing a problem, which we have to be very careful about too. And I think that guilt that comes with setting boundaries is a part of the general grieving process. And when you think about stages of grief, guilt is always involved. You can grieve someone that is very well alive, and can grieve them as a person, you can grieve the relationship, you can grieve what they used to be, and what they’re not anymore. You can grieve the memories, positive things that you’ve had with them, and knowing that it’s not authentic now.
And so that’s really where the support system is very important. It ties right back in, making sure that you don’t have to do this alone. And it’s not minimizing how hard it is. Because, for instance with family, it’s very hard to imagine that the people that you’re setting boundaries with, you’ve never had one tiny ounce of happiness with them, or positivity with them. And sometimes we can go quick – especially if we’re dealing with maybe cutting a parent out completely – our brain can quickly go to “well, they kept me alive, they changed my diapers, they made sure I had formula, they got me clothes for school. This is awful of me, that they did all of that for me and I’m sitting here kind of shunning them.”
But that’s expected. Parents have to do those things. When you have a child, you do that. And if you don’t, you’re abusive, and you shouldn’t have children. And you shouldn’t be responsible for a child’s well being. So that is, probably across the board, that’s the number one guilt that comes up when people set boundaries is, “but they did so much for me. And now I’m doing this horrible thing.” It’s not horrible. Someone can be perfectly lovely. And then they turn out to, I don’t know, beat you up, or hit you with their car. People change, right?
And you’re not in debt to your parents for them for providing the basics.
Yeah, they had to do that, otherwise they’d be in jail! It’s actually illegal to neglect, or leave a child malnourished, like they have to do those things. What’s different is also that when you were a kid, you were a kid, and the pain that comes from whatever happened in your childhood is there. But you also became an adult, where you get to decide. As kids, we don’t really have that power. You know, plenty of kids have really bad parents, but they feed them, wash them, send them to school, don’t beat them. And they get by. Unfortunately, we live in a world where that is enough, to not have to be punished by the government or by the world, whatever. And just because you were able to get to this point doesn’t mean that you have to put up with it.
Another good way with the guilt and the grief, think “if this was happening to your very best friend, what would you be telling her?” Right? If your best friend’s mom was doing this to her, or something in her family, you would be telling her “girl stop, get out of there, do not call her back.” And a lot of women have practice with this, especially in dating. Dating sometimes we can get really good with boundaries, because we’re like, “ah, he said that to you? Absolutely not never text him again,” right? There’s a lot more cultural no’s, we’re like “no, no, no, you deserve so much better. You’re a queen, you’re amazing.” But when it comes to family, it’s like “but it’s family.”
And there’s so many things revolving around grief and guilt culturally. Culturaly, taking care of your parents is expected of you, but you’re like “I’m not doing that.” Or looking at it like “they didn’t take good care of me, I’m not taking good care of them. I’m not supposed to put them in the nursing home. They have all this and they can do that for themselves.” Dealing with the grief of it is just like grieving someone that has passed, or something that doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t, you’re grieving something that isn’t there. The relationship, the person, you know, thinking about addiction in families. You know, I bring that up a lot because that’s a very common one that I see with families, is you may grieving the person that they used to be before addiction. And setting the boundary because you want to preserve the good, too. So thinking about all of the positive and warm and fuzzy memories, isn’t going to feel great, it is gonna make you feel guilty. But also, maybe that’s a part of your life that you want to preserve and think about them. And by setting the boundary, you’re protecting that too.
I love how you put it that way, and that we don’t necessarily need to hold on and let it consume our thoughts, those positive parts and thinking of how it can make us falter. But it’s okay to preserve that have that to look back on, and how setting the boundaries is like, “this is how I want you to be in my thoughts. And so we’re going to keep it that way now.”
Absolutely – and remembered. And that’s much more healthy. And it also will make you more more loving towards them if something were to change.
Definitely, and things can change over time.
Yeah, because negativity, we don’t need to hold on to at all.
Yeah, exactly. So we are getting close to time, I did want to touch on one other thing: talking to our kids about these boundaries, because that can be a hard one. Like, why aren’t they seeing these family members anymore, and that sort of thing. So how can we navigate those conversations with them?
Totally. And I think the best answer for this is it always depends on the kid, right? Some kids are going to be able to emotionally kind of understand, like “this person’s mean to Mommy, so Mommy doesn’t talk to them.” And I think it’s also important to see what they’ve been exposed to. And like, if they ask like, “oh, where’s where’s Aunt Mary, she usually comes to my birthday party.” And, you know, it’s okay to lie. And I think a lot of people – we lie to children all the time. Whoever says that we don’t, we do.
Lying probably sounds really bad, but we’re not completely honest with children all the time to protect them. Protecting your children in the midst of toxic behaviors from family members – the same way that if a three year old came up to me and they were like, “why is my Uncle Joe kind of acting like that,” we’re not going to say he was just in the bathroom doing drugs, so that makes him funny. We’re not going to say that, because that’s going to be a lot for them to process ,and have questions about, and worry about this person. Because likely, they might love the family member that you’re setting a boundary with. And you protecting the child is also like you’re setting a boundary not for you, but for them, but also allowing their experience with that person as well. And so maybe they have a positive memory with Uncle Joe or Aunt Mary, and we don’t want to be the one to be like, “well, they’re bad,” Because that’s gonna make them possibly second guess how they read people, or understand people.
And so, differently, if this is someone in your family that does have a lot of alarming behaviors – maybe the child has seen some really upsetting things that they’ve done, maybe a huge fiasco at a family event – I think that’s a little bit more appropriate to be like, “do you remember at grandma’s birthday party and Uncle Joe got really angry, and he threw his glass at the window? We’re gonna have some time apart because he’s taking some time to work on not throwing glasses anymore.” You know, speaking it at their language.
Of course, teenagers, different than three year olds. A teenager is probably going to be like, “Uncle Joe was acting crazy. I don’t want to be around that, that was scary.” And processing their emotions about it, too. Like, “how would it feel if we don’t see Aunt Mary for a really long time,” or “we may not see her for a long time, how does that make you feel?” And you know, I always have an emotion wheel, like “is this happy, sad.” Kind of gauging where they’re at on it, too. Sometimes our kids don’t need to know all of the adult problems yet.
Depends on the kid. You know, value their experience with that person, keep them safe. But also just keep engaging that. Keeping the adult stuff to yourself, I think it’s very important.
And the conversation can change over time too. If they’re three and yeah, you’re just saying, “well, they couldn’t make it today.” And then maybe that builds up over time. But as they start asking more questions and having more emotional maturity, it is okay to change the narrative and explain things too. So you don’t necessarily have to be stuck in something.
No totally not. As they grow, the conversation can grow. Totally.
That’s it for time, do you have any last message for people that are really struggling with these situations with family members and thinking about putting up boundaries?
Sure, I think No.1 is to acknowledge that it is hard, boundaries are not these really easy things that we put on ourselves. We actually have a really hard time setting them, even just for our own selves, let alone having to do them for other people. But just remember that boundaries are in place to protect you, and to protect your loved ones. And to protect your well being. And if you need help with it, therapy is a great place to start. You don’t have to go through your entire childhood for your therapist to want to work on boundaries with you, you can show up and say “this is what’s happening. And I need help navigating it.” And you can start right there. And we spend time in boundaries all the time. So we’re here. And sometimes I’m the only person that’s their cheerleader in their life, to be like, “don’t call them back. Look at all this work and money you spent and time with me, do not do it.” So we can be a really good third party resource to only your experience. We know nothing about your family, we only know your experience. So we can be really non objective and wonderful for you.
Absolutely, that support can just be so helpful. So thank you, Mary, for taking the time to chat with us, so much great information! I think really validating too for people that are in the middle of this. So thank you. Where can people find you?
Yes! So we are on Instagram and we are always posting fun little tidbits and tips. Our user is @TatePsychotherapy. And you also can find us on our website, which is very easy. It’s TatePsychotherapy.com. And we are always available for help in resources. A lot of people reach out for therapy, but also you can just reach out for like “hey, I live somewhere else where you don’t serve, what do you recommend?” Or we can help kind of lead you in the right direction as well.
It’s really nice to have that kind of question-off point, someone that you can ask questions and help direct, because there’s so much information out there.
Oh, overwhelming. Yes.
Great. Thank you again, Mary, and thank you to everyone watching this episode. We will be continuing the conversation within our Facebook group, our group chat, and our bi-weekly UM Club Hangout. So I will see you there!
Thank you for listening, I hope you enjoyed my chat with Mary! Make sure to go take a look at the UM Club Facebook page, and come and discuss everything we chatted about today! I can’t wait to see everyone there, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for the next exclusive UM Club episode!
[…] We’re diving into all this with Mary – who you may recognize from our previous episode, Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members. Mary Tate is a licensed clinical social worker who is very experienced in helping people manage […]