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Setting Boundaries: Removing Unhealthy Relationships

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| July 19, 2022

Establishing (or reestablishing) healthy boundaries can improve your self-respect and your overall mental health.

There are certain ways in which we allow ourselves to be spoken to and treated in a relationship. Establishing those guidelines can be hard work but worth the effort for so many reasons.

Setting boundaries in your personal (and professional) life is an effective way to ensure that each relationship is serving you mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Are you being treated with respect, care and honesty?

If not, there are times in our lives when it becomes necessary to do the hard work of either reestablishing our personal boundaries or cutting relationships out of our lives entirely. 

Neither is easy to do, but in the end, it will make your life better.

Setting up boundaries speaks to your self-esteem, your self-value and sets restrictions on the types of behavior you will accept in your life from those around you.

Allowing another person to tease you relentlessly, put you down, criticize you or just generally take advantage of you can erode your self-worth as a human being. Establishing (or reestablishing) healthy boundaries can improve your overall mental health. And being clear about how we want to be treated can lead to more fulfilling, caring and respectful relationships. If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, it might be time to remove the person entirely from your life.

In this blog, we examine some stories from writers who took the ultimate step to set up boundaries and consider the lessons each author shares with readers. These essays give us a peek at what healthy boundaries look like for different people and why it's important for every individual to take charge of their personal limits.

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Not Only in America: I’ve Chosen to Be Estranged From My British Right-Wing Father

Personal boundaries can mean many different things, but two types of personal boundaries that can be challenging to set are verbal boundaries and emotional boundaries, especially as it relates to having hot-topic conversations with loved ones.

You can see one instance of setting verbal and emotional boundaries in a narrative written by a Doe reader when she recalls a childhood filled with her father ranting about the British Empire, complaining about left-wingers and bellyaching about foreign foods. Her father, who served in the British military, made it clear to the family that “Queen and country” would always outrank the family, even at the expense of their happiness.

The author says she accepted coming in second in her dad’s heart—until she chose not to. 

Saying “enough” was this author’s way of setting a personal boundary but also a way for her to start healing the wounds her lack of boundaries created throughout her life. What came after was reconciling with the unhealthy lessons her father had taught her and that she had adopted as her own. She learned that no matter how you are raised, it is up to each person to challenge the lessons we learn and continue to evolve as people.

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Dear Parents: I Love You but Don't Like You

We often learn the framework of boundary setting (or lack thereof) in our childhood, and for many adolescents and adults, practicing better boundaries can be a challenge, especially when it requires unlearning the unhealthy patterns passed down by parents or role models.

For example, one reader of the Doe shared with us how the sternness her parents imposed on her from a young age made her consistently feel like a massive disappointment, which led to anxiety and the need to please people as she grew older.

While her parents were otherwise lovely people and she was physically safe as a child, she realized that she really didn’t like her parents very much. She didn’t enjoy spending time with them. And she chooses to keep her life separate because she doesn’t want to deal with their judgment or opinions. 

The boundary she set, to spend as little time as possible with her parents, was a difficult process to endure. But it was a boundary she needed to set to protect and improve her own self-worth.

It wasn’t until she allowed herself to set healthy boundaries with them that she began to truly enjoy her life, without the guilt and judgment of her parents.

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I’m Leaving the Family Business: This Is Why

As the Notorious B.I.G. once said, “Keep your family and business completely separated.”  The work/life boundary can be a difficult lesson for many to learn, especially when you have the opportunity to be a part of a 90-year-old family-owned and operated business, such as one author for the Doe, who felt like being a part of her family’s business was letting others define her rather than defining herself.

When you work in the family business, there’s never a break from work. Family get-togethers become brainstorming sessions or debriefings, and after-work drinks happen at the kitchen table. Boundaries are blurred, and it’s easy to get lost in the “toxic hustle culture,” as she refers to it.

This writer’s connection with her father turned into a vicious cycle of anxiety and arguments, creating a big strain on their once-loving relationship. 

While she’s thankful and proud of the business, ultimately, she realized that for her own mental health and wellness, she needed to leave the family business and find her own happiness on a different path and stop letting her family define what reality should mean for her.

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I Lost My Mom to QAnon

Learning to set boundaries while speaking about politics is a critical lesson for everyone, especially in today’s exceptionally divisive world. One author for the Doe encountered this head on with his own mother after she became involved with a radical, right-wing man and adopted his political beliefs.

Rather than initially setting boundaries with his mother, the author joined the military to escape the life he was living. While he barely spoke to his mother, he watched her slow descent into the strange and hateful world of QAnon through Facebook.

As her conspiracies grew worse, the author’s tolerance became weaker, and the importance of setting boundaries to protect his own belief system became more obvious. And his boundary was to limit contact while carrying on with his life, free of guilt.

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I Survived My Gaslighting Family, but I'm Still Getting Over It

Enabling behavior is often a result of lack of boundaries. But not everyone will accept the boundaries you put into place, meaning if you don’t continue to remain strong in your ideals, your personal health will be affected, and the enabling will continue.

And for one author with a family rife with substance abuse issues, untreated mental illness and serious anger management problems, setting firm boundaries was a struggle. For every boundary she set, her family pushed back, creating a vicious cycle for her mental health.

She now realizes that her family was gaslighting her in order to keep her in her place. She was constantly belittled and demeaned. She was made to feel that her mother’s narcotics addiction was her fault. That the family drama was her fault. If only she would behave and act a certain way, then everything would be fine.

Once she realized she had been manipulated her entire life, she decided to establish firm personal boundaries with her parents. Her mother is no longer in her life at all. And she has limited interactions with her father.

The boundaries this author set allowed her to break free from an enablement cycle and protect herself.

Conclusion

While difficult, establishing boundaries can be one of the most valuable gifts you give yourself.

Hopefully, the lessons from these five essays on setting personal boundaries can help you on your own individual journey.

For more stories on establishing healthy boundaries and learning how to navigate tricky family dynamics, check out more narratives on The Doe—perhaps it’s your sign that you’re not alone in the personal battles you might be facing.

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