You might have friends or a partner that looks from the outside of your relationship and almost mocks you at times asking you, why you struggle to setting boundaries with your parents and let them walk all over you. However, that’s easy for them to say because there are clear reasons why this happens.
In this article, I will explain seven reasons why we often struggle to set boundaries with our toxic parents.
What are boundaries?
We will first briefly look at what boundaries are.
According to Nedra Glover Tawwab, in her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace Boundaries are needs and expectations that help you to feel comfortable in relationships. Expectations in relationships help you stay mentally well. Learning how to say yes and no in your relationships, helps you to feel comfortable.
This applies to all kinds of relationships, not just the one you have with your Toxic Parents. You could struggle setting boundaries with your partner, your children, your friends, and especially at work in your job.
You may find that in your life that you could see where the issues are. That you are physically as well as emotionally exhausted. You have little or no time for yourself to enjoy the things you like doing in your life.
Because your life is consumed with either doing things for your parents or thinking about the things you have done for your parents, even thinking about the things that you should have done for your parents.
The reason why I thought that it is important to explain why you may struggle setting boundaries with your toxic parents, in my experience, a lot of people even though you know there is a problem, a stumbling block is beating themselves up about it. You either can’t understand why you can’t say no, or you may know why but need reassurance that it hasn’t been that easy for you.
Please be aware that the list I’m providing here isn’t of any particular order of importance. All of them are important, depending on which ones you can relate to. So, listen through till the end and make a note of which ones you can relate to. Then write in your journal how you feel it has affected your life.
Your Parents were Abusive
This could apply to all kinds of abuse including, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and this also applies mainly if your parents still are, verbally and or physically abusive, etc. If you experienced these things from your parents, for example, which could include your parents being controlling, manipulative, or name-calling.
This is what we call emotionally abusive which is different from emotional neglect which I will talk about later.
If your parents are emotionally abusive, they actively say or do things to hurt you. Because you experienced this as a child or young person, being mistreated maybe became normal for you whereas being disrespected, and not treated as anyone’s equal isn’t usual.
How your parents treat you provides a child a blueprint for how the rest of the world could treat you. That first relationship is vital for setting the trend for you as an individual.
Your Anger button was switched off as a child
What I find with a lot of clients that struggle with people-pleasing and setting boundaries is that their anger button is switched off. By anger button, I mean that you feel that showing anger and feeling angry is a no-no. Feeling angry is something you resist against as you have so many negative views on anger.
Maybe you witnessed your parent’s anger and decided that you didn’t want to inflict that on others. Or maybe your parents didn’t encourage that emotion as they were uncomfortable with it themselves. This could be that they were always too nice and people pleasers themselves.
Or you may have had parents that made everything about themselves, that seeing your anger and your protests wasn’t acceptable for them so they put a stop to that somehow.
Again, you found this normal so not being angry became a way of life for you until now hopefully where someone like me is now pointing it out to you.
The importance of anger is that it lets you and others know what is important to you and what you value. If you don’t allow those feelings, what would you or others know what you need?
I am not necessarily talking about chucking a chair through a window when you are upset or somethings. It is about accepting what you are feeling than learning from those feelings about what you really need.
If you shut those feelings off, you would miss so much here.
Unfortunately for many children and young people, this bit of being human, as it is human to feel angry at times, is shut off so that bit that we need from anger to mobilise and motivate us to get what we need is disarmed.
Religious or cultural beliefs
So as not to cause offense here, I know from my own experiences, that we were told it is better to give than receive. Many cultures and religions, let’s us know that it is better to give than to receive. We are also meant to honour our parents so to speak. It is also forced on us from an early age, that we need to obey our parents if we want to live a long life.
With all these messages bombarded on a young impressionable child, what choices do you have but to believe them and obey them? If you see your family doing the same thing, you learn pretty young, what is expected of you. And doing anything other than what you were told, would cause a lot of shame, guilt, and anxiety
We can often feel confused over feeling, that what we are doing is wrong and even to an extent we would be punished for our choices.
That’s the extent, these early influences can have over our lives. It is really difficult to walk away from those beliefs because our whole community and family often believe them. You can often feel like an outcast if you don’t comply with the same beliefs.
Your personality type
If we are naturally introverted, we often need to be encouraged to verbally and outwardly stand up for ourselves. Others who are quite extroverted, which means they tend to be more outgoing, talkative, and assertive, would instinctively know what to say and then think later sometimes. If they are upset about it, someone who is extroverted would more than likely blurt out their feelings and then worry about it later.
Someone who is introverted, on the other hand, would be a lot more reserved at expressing their feelings. They would more than likely think first and then act on their thoughts if necessary. There is nothing wrong with this it is just that if you do this and have not learned that it is ok to stand up for yourself when you feel ready, others can take advantage of that “quietness”.
Let me reiterate again that there is nothing wrong with being introverted, it is about just being aware that being reserved about your opinions and not expressing them at any point could make it difficult for you. The point here is to maybe think about what you need to do and act on it when you feel comfortable, not talk yourself out of it.
We worry about our parents because of genuine concerns
You could actually have genuine concerns about your parents if they are physically or mentally unwell. You could see that they neglect themselves and that they are really vulnerable, especially as they get older.
This again deserves a separate podcast because, how do you treat a parent who is verbally abusive but they do genuinely need help. How can you set boundaries and have that balance between protecting your mental health and your physical well-being?
It’s hard to do especially if they are very manipulative as well.
They are very manipulative
Some parents are overtly manipulative where they deliberately exploit and shame you to control you to do what they want you to do for them. You may have experienced this all your life to the extent that this behaviour is normal and you don’t know how to react differently.
They may also be covertly manipulative where they are more passive-aggressive and don’t appear controlling, but they are. They could even appear to be nice people, especially to the outside world where they say all the right things to the right people. However, they are still manipulative and won’t allow you to have a life outside of what they want for you.
This could also include what we call gaslighting where your parents are so manipulative that you question your own reality. They may do or say something abusive then completely deny or conveniently forget what’s happened. Then you end up thinking you must be the “bad child” so you feel you need to do more
We get our self-esteem by being the helpful compliant child (family roles)
Growing up in a dysfunctional family and having the role of the “caretaker” could have meant that you were expected to take care of your parents and this is your role within the family. What makes a family dysfunctional is that these roles are fixed and you struggle to change them. This is what your parents expect and demand from you.
You would struggle to set boundaries with your parents because for you, being the caretaker is normal. You don’t know any different. Who would you be without being the caretaker? I have done a previous podcast on the different family roles which I will link down below.
Summary of why you struggle setting boundaries with your parents
Today I tried to give you some insight as to why you may struggle to set boundaries with your toxic parents because a lot of people feel somewhat ashamed for not being able to do this.
I explained that if you went through emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as a child even if this wasn’t from your parents, these experiences would affect you.
For many reasons you could have your anger button switched off when you learned pretty young never to be angry. By never being angry, you never stand up for yourself.
You may also have religious or cultural beliefs where your parents were always right, where standing up to them is not the thing to do.
You may also have a personality type where you are more reserved in your views and opinions. There’s nothing wrong with this but being confrontational might be a struggle at times.
There may also be genuine concerns about the well-being of your parents where you feel responsible for them.
Many parents are also overtly where it’s very clear they are being manipulative or covertly manipulative where their manipulation is much harder to spot as they can appear to actually be quite nice to you.
Finally, I talked about how you may have, for whatever reason, been assigned the role of the caretaker of the family which is often hard to shake off and be something else.
Hope you found this beneficial.
Please feel free to share this article with someone who will benefit from understanding why they struggle.