Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Updated: May 27, 2022
Sometimes creating boundaries and claiming your autonomy is scary and difficult, especially when others struggle to respect your decisions.
I recently visited my grandmother. Unfortunately, I don't have the greatest relationship with my grandmother. There aren't any personality-forming memories, knitted blankets, passed along recipes, or wisdom-filled life lessons. We have a reasonably significant language barrier that makes communicating difficult – not impossible. She also travels constantly, so I don't see her often. She had just returned from her trip, and I was visiting just to say hi.
I walked in and saw her washing dishes. With her back turned to me, we said our hellos. When she turned around without hesitation, she called me fat. I was taken aback and told her that I was not fat. She reassured me that I was. This is the same woman who would tell me I was too skinny as a child. I decided arguing was futile and just moved on.
I have gained weight, but I'm still healthy and happy with my body. I struggled to come to terms with my changing body, but I'm okay now. That doesn't make what she said okay. I told my cousin this story, and she reiterated she had experienced something similar when visiting her grandmother. My sister heard and decided she did not want to visit our grandmother for her own mental health. If I had the foresight to know how I would be treated the moment I walked through the door, I, too, would not have gone to visit her.
When others heard of the decision, they tried to convince us that she's old and doesn't know better. She's from a different time in a different country. I can understand this argument, but I genuinely think it is not an excuse to be blatantly rude.
My sister has accomplished many things in her short life, all of which are great, but the ability to confidently establish boundaries is probably the best thing she could have possibly done for herself.
I have attempted the same, but I can't say I did it with as much confidence. I remember once I was going out with my mother. I was fully dressed, waiting for her, who still hadn't even started getting ready. It was cold, and instead of asking me if I had worn layers, she lifted my shirt to check herself. I explained that this action was unacceptable as I have autonomy and do not want that. She scoffed and dismissed my statement going as far as saying she changed my diapers. I am a 23-year-old woman, and I stopped wearing diapers 22 years ago, so the argument is moot.
Setting boundaries can be daunting even in the best situation, but when it comes to setting new boundaries with family, it can feel much more daunting. They're so used to acting or speaking a particular way around you deciding to set healthy boundaries may make them feel offended. They may feel like you're changing too much and expecting them to change with you. It can cause arguments, and in extreme situations, it can even escalate to the point of having to cut someone off entirely.
The argument can be made that family is blood, and you must always be there for them. Some people may disagree with cutting off family socially. However, you must accept and respect their boundaries to be there for someone. To not accept boundaries is to show disrespect. Without a doubt, if someone were constantly disrespecting you, you would cut them. Why would it be any different just because said person is a family member?
As a reminder, you don't know what anyone is going through in their health and weight journey, so don't comment on someone's weight. Unless you have specific consent to touch someone's body, do not do it. Respect everyone's boundaries.