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Healthy and Authentic Ways to Set Boundaries with Your Mother

A biracial mother and daughter are standing outside together. The daughter is hugging her mother from the back as she nuzzles her face onto her mothers. They are both smiling.

Healthy and Authentic Ways to Set Boundaries with Your Mother

A biracial mother and daughter are standing outside together. The daughter is hugging her mother from the back as she nuzzles her face onto her mothers. They are both smiling.
Set Boundaries with Your Mother

Navigating relationships with our mothers can be both rewarding and challenging. While mothers play a significant role in our lives, it’s common to encounter situations where boundaries become necessary for maintaining a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries with your mother is not about creating distance or disrespect; instead, it’s a crucial step toward establishing mutual respect and understanding. The complexity of the mother-child relationship is a consistent subject I talk about with patients as an anxiety counselor in Woodland Hills.

Regardless of how close we are to our mothers, we can sometimes get caught in a trap of expecting them to know us better than we know ourselves. This can create resentment when we have to set boundaries; shouldn’t she just know this about me? It can also make us feel isolated or unknown when our mother doesn’t intuit our wants and needs. When we think about it logically, we can usually understand that nobody is a mind reader. But the emotional experience can feel very, very different.

Why Boundaries are Important 

A mother and daughter are standing together in the kitchen. They are both holding coffee mugs in their hands as they talk. Set Boundaries with Your Mother

Establishing boundaries with your mother is essential for several reasons. Firstly, boundaries define the parameters of a relationship, ensuring that both parties feel respected and valued. Without clear boundaries, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, potentially straining the relationship.  Additionally, setting boundaries fosters emotional health and autonomy. It allows individuals to develop a sense of self separate from their mothers, promoting personal growth and maturity. Finally, boundaries create a sense of safety and comfort within the relationship, encouraging open communication and healthy interactions. Setting a boundary for yourself also invites your mother to do the same.

3 Ways to Set Boundaries with Your Mother

1) Communicate Clearly and Calmly: 

An Asian mother and daughter are standing together in their kitchen in front of each other. They are both holding coffee mugs in their hands. Set Boundaries with Your Mother

Effective communication is key to setting boundaries. To communicate effectively, you have to understand your audience and show respect to yourself and your mother by taking the conversation seriously. Choose a suitable time and approach to have an open conversation with your mother. This might mean messaging her beforehand to ask her to set aside some time. The subject might also come up naturally in conversation; in that event, make sure that you have the time and space to do the conversation justice.

Communicate with yourself, to begin with. Talk aloud about the issue and let yourself speak without trying to censor your thoughts. This is a great way to experience making statements before you make them. The things you know you want to say will ring true; it will likely feel good in some way to express them. The things you say to yourself that aren’t quite right, whether they’re not fully formed yet or you don’t think they’re helpful, will also guide you. Doing this talk with yourself doesn’t mean you won’t come across some things you’re nervous about saying or that anything you struggle to express should be edited from your plan. It’s a good way to feel out how you’re feeling and how expressing that might go. You can also do this process by journaling.

Decide for yourself what you want to say and why you want to say it. Establish confidence in your boundaries and practice the parts that make you nervous until you are used to them. It might not make all your jitters disappear, but it can go a long way toward helping you out when the time comes to talk to your mother face-to-face. Practice ahead of time how you would like to express yourself, taking pauses to regulate your nervous system as needed. Come up with affirmations that empower you to set boundaries. You might try phrases such as, “Everyone, including me, deserves to have their boundaries respected,” or, “I show myself kindness by honoring my boundaries.” If you experience uncertainty about communicating your boundaries, remind yourself, “Communicating my boundaries is an investment in my relationship,” or “It is an act of love to tell people how to care for me.”

When you talk to your mother, clearly express your feelings and needs without blaming or accusing her. Use “I” statements to convey how certain behaviors impact you personally. For example, say, “I feel overwhelmed when we discuss my career choices repeatedly. I would appreciate it if we could focus on other topics during our conversations.” It can be very tempting to default to your history when it comes to someone like a parent. This is a person who has known you for your entire life and raised you. You might feel like saying, “You always…” when trying to explain your boundary. This is not an effective communication strategy. Whether or not it’s true, statements like that will immediately put the other person on the defensive.

Remaining calm is a focus of many of our anxiety therapy sessions here in Woodland Hills. It is a skill all its own, even outside of high-stakes conversations and difficult transitions. Make sure you set aside time to be mindful of your thoughts and how you feel in your body as you plan what you would like to say. If you have practiced what you will say and utilized strategies to stay calm, make sure you employ them when you need to during the conversation.

2) Establish Consequences: 

A mother and daughter are sitting together at their dining table. They are both talking to each other as they drink coffee. Set Boundaries with Your Mother

The first person you need to establish consequences with is yourself. It is one thing to think about what you might do if your boundaries aren’t respected, but it can be another to follow through. Do you feel yourself squirming when you think about enforcing a consequence? The thing is that whether you uphold consequences or not, they will exist. Enforced consequences look like responses to a failure to adhere to requests. Unenforced consequences are what happens when you set a boundary, don’t uphold it, and the behavior doesn’t change. It is for your own good and the good of your relationship that you set consequences that can encourage healthy behaviors.

Boundaries are only effective when they are enforced. Communicate the consequences of crossing established boundaries with your mother. These consequences should be reasonable and proportionate. For instance, if your boundary is regarding respecting your privacy, calmly explain that if specific topics are brought up repeatedly despite your request not to discuss them, you may need to take a temporary break from communication.

The feelings surrounding the people who raised us can be complicated. When we were very small, they made every decision for us. We had no secrets from them. They “knew best,” and that’s how we made it to adulthood. This can make the transition to your independence challenging. You may feel guilty for telling your mother that some subjects are off limits, trying to guide her to using language that doesn’t trigger you, reminding her to call before she comes by, or whatever the issue is. Remember that your boundaries are in place for the betterment of your relationship, and so are the consequences of not respecting them.

When you are thinking about what the consequences might be, think about the ways you and your mother interact on a regular basis. Consider what might be appropriate for setting the boundary and how and when you might remove it. Will it be when you receive an apology? Will you agree to a set time in the future when you set the consequence? You might say, “Let’s talk in a week to see how you feel about my boundaries at that time.” It is up to you what it will look like to reconnect if you are compelled to set a boundary.

Enforcing consequences means being prepared to extend them when your boundaries are not being respected. “When we spoke about this before, I expressed that it is harmful to hear those phrases, and we took a break until you could respect my boundary. I feel you’re still pushing the limits, which isn’t good for me, so we’ll have to take a little more time.”

Check-in with yourself about these consequences and why you are enforcing them. This is not about punishment; if you feel you are making decisions out of spite or revenge, take a step back and consider if you think that will get you what you ultimately want. In the end, that is what the consequences are for to help you get what you want and need. This is why they should reflect the boundary that was crossed and seek to negate the damage done by your mother, neglecting your request(s).

3) Seek Support if Needed: 

A young woman is sitting in her therapists office. The African American woman therapist is sitting across from her with a notepad. Set Boundaries with Your Mother

Setting boundaries, especially with a parent, can be emotionally challenging. Seek support from a therapist or a trusted friend who can provide guidance and encouragement. Therapy can offer valuable tools and strategies for establishing boundaries effectively while maintaining the emotional well-being of all parties involved. The benefits of therapy can be immense if you are willing to be vulnerable and do the work. In-person or online anxiety therapy can help you to identify the stressors in your life, be mindful of how you react to them, and create more beneficial thoughts and behaviors in response.

When you have to enforce a boundary, you may discover that it brings up past feelings, fears, frustrations, and more. Through behavioral therapy, you can process those past pains and adjust your thoughts and the actions you take in response to make things easier on yourself. Setting boundaries with a parent can sometimes lead to some feelings of re-parenting yourself. With the help of a therapist, you can safely explore ideas related to re-parenting yourself, such as how you would choose to have your boundaries respected, practicing using respectful and empowering language, and saying no and having that be okay.

If your mother has always been particularly involved in your life, setting boundaries may require you to go back through your history and reflect upon the patterns that have been repeating themselves for a long time. Setting boundaries is one of the ways we restore balance in a parent-child relationship; if your mother wants a lot of say in your decisions or relies on you for a lot of emotional support, you may have been struggling with an imbalanced dynamic for as long as you can remember. A key thing to keep in mind when you are in therapy talking about your relationship is this: we know that parent-child relationships are complicated. If you tell us you love your mom, we believe you. It might feel tough to speak about your struggles with your mother at first. You might find yourself reassuring your therapist that you love her, know she means well, and that she’s trying her best. We will believe you. We know that you are seeking help in setting boundaries as an act of care for her and your relationship.

You can also seek support from a trusted loved one. This might be someone who doesn’t have a close relationship with your mother, such as a friend, or someone who does, like a sibling, parent, aunt, or uncle. Support from a friend can provide you with a sounding board. It can also provide you with a cheerleader; any friend who cares about you will be encouraging of you. In the same way, you would likely advise them to stick to their guns and advocate for themselves, and they will do for you. In fact, you might find that speaking to a friend naturally leads to you imagining how you would respond if they were bringing the same issue to you. Hearing yourself say your issues aloud can make them feel more real and help you recognize what you want, need, and deserve.

Getting support from someone who knows your mother isn’t about the two of you ganging up on her or talking behind her back. You might opt to ask for some backup at the next family dinner where your love life is mentioned in changing the topic, or you and a sibling may both need one another’s help in setting the same boundary. When the goal is improved relationships, you can approach these conversations with compassion and grace.

A mother and daughter are sitting together at a restaurant. They are both eating food and doing a cheers with their glasses of beer.

So much fear that I hear about in my sessions for anxiety therapy in Woodland Hills is a fear of letting others down, hurting others’ feelings, and disappointing others. Setting boundaries with a close loved one can definitely bring up these fears; they are valid. Through the process of sitting with those fears, we can learn how to release them and move forward with actions and behaviors that support the relationships we want to have. No matter how you and your mother have communicated in the past, it is possible to have calm, respectful conversations with her. You cannot control how she responds to you; you can only control how you react to her response. Not all progress and change happen in a straight line; you might have to work in baby steps to foster the boundaries that are best for you. The point is that you are worthy of communicating your needs and having them met.

Therapy for Codependency in Woodland Hills, CA

Codependency, also knowns as people-pleasing, can show up in any relationships but often feels most complicated with loved ones such as one’s parents. Codependency Therapy is dedicated to unpacking your relationships conflicts and tensions so that you can create a healthier blueprint that includes strong communication and boundary skills. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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