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  • Writer's picturekalidc

Saying hard shit, aka communicating boundaries, to your family & loved ones.

If you’re like me, setting boundaries sounds good, but you might wonder how the hell to put together the words. Especially if you are dealing with people (family?) who may not know, care, or believe boundaries are a thing. Shoutout to my LGBTQ folks, BIPOC or immigrant folks, and folks with codependent or difficult family members.

Here are my high yield scripts that will help you get through conversations about politics, having children (or not), getting married (or not), your weight, or whatever craziness may come out of someone’s unhinged mouth.  .

Before I share those, I want you remember that you are an adult who can do or say what you want. You might get cussed out, laughed at, or be made to feel like you’re the devil—but you are not a child who needs to keep your primary caregiver from getting upset. No matter what your family of origin is like, as an adult, you now have the freedom to decide whether not saying something is preferable to saying something (and, letting other folks take care of their own feelings).

It took me 5 years to learn this lesson in therapy, and I’m still practicing it (sometimes reluctantly) because my mother is not to be messed with. 

Dr. Kali's Approach

If you’re feeling particularly on edge, fed up, or like a ticking time bomb going into the family gathering, you’re probably at a stage in your life where you are tired of holding it in.

I like to tell my patients: choose your feelings before your feelings choose you (and, you end up flipping out because you’ve been pushed to the edge). 

So, get ahead of it, and practice how you can voice disagreement, boundaries, or radical honesty using these phrases.

Focus on Impact versus Intention

Let’s say I accidentally stepped on your foot and it hurts like hell. You assume I didn’t intend to step on your foot and to hurt you, but I did. The impact of my stepping on your foot is that it hurt you. I know what some of you are thinking…what if you KNOW FOR SURE that I did intend to step on your foot and hurt you. Listen very carefully: you are not a brain reader and don’t know anything for sure unless I tell you.

If you’re not sure, you could ask me if it was intentional and hopefully I’d be honest. But, we as humans are contradictory by nature— we don’t say what we mean or do what we say. So, being asked puts me on the spot to reflect about my intentions and makes me feel like you are curious about why I did something rather than assuming I wanted to hurt you. 

Here’s a common example. Let’s say your mom is the type to always comment on your weight. You could say, Mom, I’m no brain reader so I don’t know if you intended to hurt me by asking how much weight I gained. When you ask questions like that, whether intentional or not, ____ (fill in the blank with the following, depending on your comfort level):

1.     It hurts me. (Easiest) 

2.   It makes me feel like you only approve of me if I am thinner. (Less Easy)

3.   It makes me nervous to come home for the holidays because I’ll feel judged, critiqued, or like who I am isn’t acceptable. (Difficult) 

Pass the Buck

This is my “if you’re gonna act like this to me, I’m gonna do it back” strategy. When someone says or asks something mean, passive aggressive, or rude, you say back in a curious and gentle tone: I’m not sure I get what you’re asking or saying. This script is helpful for folks who have personalities that tend towards non-confrontation.

Basically, you are signaling that something they said did not sit well with you. You throw the ball back in their court which: 

1) Makes the game-playing Auntie realize you see what you she’s doing 

2) Allows folks to pause and question whether they didn’t think long enough to cover up their judgment before speaking 

3) Gives someone a chance to clarify as maybe they didn’t mean it the way it came off. 

This script also works if you end up talking about politics or other controversial topics because you are showing curiosity, rather than immediately tell them they’re wrong. This helps to disarm and allows folks feel more open.

Communicate a time or space barrier

As much as I think this conversation is important or interesting, seems like we’re just going around in circles.

  • This approach relieves you from having to share your feelings about being hurt or annoyed by them and the conversation. 

 I feel like this conversation is getting more heated than I’d like it to be, can we change the topic?

  • Then bring up another topic. This one requires more vulnerability and courage to name the dynamic as uncomfortable which may not be usual to name in your family.  

I feel myself drifting into a bad mood and I worry I will not be good company so let me excuse myself and come back when I feel better.

  • Then go to another room, go for a walk, or just do something to clear your head and purge the negative intense emotions that were projected onto you. Clearly, this is the most vulnerable of the statements but at least you give an explanation about why you’re fleeing which I think buys you more time to flee for a longer period. 

Okay, good luck!

You got this.

And, in case you wanted my opinion, if your parent’s politics lead them to vote for politicians who outwardly reduce human rights, you should be discussing politics because you have the best chance of motivating them to change. They probably don’t interact with other folks who believe or look different, like me, so it is part of your job. Think of it as social justice advocacy or like door knocking for a candidate.


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