On Respecting Personal Boundaries and Family

Trigger warnings: this post mentions self-harm, suicidal thoughts, potential alcoholism and a description of a panic attack. Please don’t read this post if these topics make you feel very uncomfortable or trigger you.

On the morning of my English exam, I found out that my mum had told my sister that I’d used a dating app to talk to girls and that I’d met someone on there. It was only because my sister had started to use Tinder and was feeling really nervous /happy about it. I didn’t get angry: I just asked them to respect my personal boundaries. As I’m still feeling quite defensive about my identity, I wanted to be the one to tell my sister. After a brief argument, in which all of us got slightly irritated, it was resolved and I went on to do that exam. When I came home, things were okay – more tense, but okay.

A couple of days later, the day my exams finished, we were all talking again. I’d been talking to my sister about her dates that she was going on at the weekend, having a lovely conversation which made me feel more comfortable about opening up myself. When my mum got back, we were still talking about it and she was talking about the dangers of online dating. I started to react really badly, attempting to contradict her when she was talking about her friend who had got conned. Although I didn’t mean it, it came off as really argumentative and belligerent. What I was trying to do was to make her think about what she was saying. After I pushed too far, she got upset and said that she “might as well keep her mouth shut” and that’s when I completely lost it inside my own head. I went upstairs and was just washing my face when I heard them talking downstairs, again.

Like a fucking idiot, I listened. I can be really quiet when I want to be, utterly silent as I got closer to the top of the stairs, so I heard everything. My mum was really upset with me, explaining to my sister that it felt like she could never speak, that I was always arguing with her. I didn’t hear much of what my sister said because my heart was smashing in my chest and the worst sort of disgust was starting to grow. The instability that had been increasing steadily suddenly roared to life: I walked into my room and twisted my arms behind my back, wanting to tear at myself to make what I had done just go away and fuck off. I had no idea what to do – I couldn’t think past the roaring in my ears that had started as I’d slammed my door shut.

After a few minutes, I’d calmed down a bit and walked downstairs. I told my sister that I had heard what they had said and that every time mum talked about the online world in a negative way, it felt like she was disapproving of a central part of my identity. I started to tell her that I couldn’t have got through the last few years without people I’d met online but I got interrupted by my own tears. She was calming me down, telling me that mum didn’t mean it; that she was trying to communicate with me but that I often reacted as if she was attacking me.

I don’t remember precisely what happened for the few minutes after that. I know I had a panic attack, that I was gripping onto her hand and telling her I hated myself, that I had always done, and getting unspeakably upset when I didn’t think she understood. I vaguely remember hitting out at the arms of the sofa linking my hands together behind my back so that I wouldn’t be tempted to hurt myself. It was genuinely horrifying; I haven’t had that bad of a panic attack on somebody for months and I was terrified. When my sister suggested getting my mum, I practically wailed that I was scared and scared and scared; I couldn’t stop crying. This is when my awareness comes back a bit more because at that point, my sister had succeeded in stopping me from screaming.

Then, my mum came in and my sister initiated a family discussion. Without going into too much detail, because it makes me seriously anxious to remember the specifics, mum and I were telling each other how we felt. We came to the conclusion that I react out of anger a lot when mum doesn’t mean to upset me – she just wants to talk to me. I keep my emotions in too much and become defensive. By this time, I felt like it was my fault all the time and was yelling in my head that I was disgusting. Mum said that, in terms of the online stuff, that she was trying to protect us but that she needed to let go.

There is something my mum does which frustrates me, a lot. When I get upset with her for something, she just “backs down” but not in a genuine way; she uses phrases like “I should never have said anything”, or “I’ll keep my mouth shut”, or “I’m scared of you”. I told her all this, telling her it made me feel terrible but I don’t think she understood precisely. I wanted to yell at them, tell them that they had no idea how much their “casual” words affected me. That I wasn’t like them, that I couldn’t let things go, that them being silent to begin with fucked me up. However, I started to realise that they were right: I did react angrily a lot of the time and I wanted to stop it. I have so much locked-in anger and sadness that when it does come out, often, it’s not because of them – it’s because it’s built up for far too long.

At some points, I couldn’t actually speak or I couldn’t get my words out. I would mouthe “help me” at my sister when this happened, my hands opening and closing because I felt like I was choking. After one particular instance of this, I told them that I would take the anger out on myself and mum’s response to that was “so you self-harm now then?” That made it even worse but I reeled in my snappish response, instead telling her that what she just said made me feel shit. I was trying to explain to them that I passively wanted to die a lot of the time – not that I wanted to actively do anything, but that I wanted to disappear. Upon telling mum that I’d told her this before, she said she remembered and would ask me if I was suicidal (but only when we were talking about suicide anyway). In response, I said that I always said no because her version of suicidal thoughts is actively wanting to do something, so I wasn’t technically lying. Instead, I wanted to scream, “YOU ARE ALWAYS DRUNK WHEN I WANT TO TALK TO YOU MOST SO HOW THE FUCK DID I EXPECT YOU TO REMEMBER?”

We agreed to be more communicative. Thanks to my sister, I started to know what it was I was doing wrong and that my emotions can be overwhelming. In the days after, it was easier not to snap; it was easier to realise I was being unreasonable. It’s not perfect but it’s okay and yes, I still get violent flaring pieces of anger and I still can’t talk to them about it yet but maybe, when I don’t want to destroy my mind as much, I’ll start to have a go.

It’s really hard to look at it from an objective standpoint and to not get some of my residual anger out in a biased rant. I’m trying, though. I understand that I can be very mean sometimes and react without thinking but some of the things my mum says still very much upset me; I don’t want this to be a one-way communication. I know that my emotions right now aren’t necessarily the most constructive thing but I can’t be the only one trying as it would make me hate myself more, thinking that I was still doing everything wrong. I’m tired of that.

The last two weeks have taught me that neither I nor my family are faultless. We all have barriers to work through and it’s not going to be easy but it’s going to happen. This summer, I don’t want to argue or to be treated like a child; I don’t want to snap or become furious at the slightest provocation. I have to thank my sister for helping us all to realise what we’ve been doing to make ourselves unhappy.

I want to set my own boundaries; I want to communicate well. Unlike before, where everything seemed impossible, I think this might potentially work.

God, this post has drained me. I feel so upset from writing it but it’s also, strangely, settled something deep within me. If I get my unhappiness out on this blog in a helpful and non-destructive way, it might not transfer into me being a total nightmare. Then again, I don’t want to be too negative; I don’t know. It’s tricky. After this, I might just go and relax so that I can collect my thoughts without becoming overly anxious.

Thanks for reading this, if you got to the end. I know that I can be far too honest sometimes but if I can’t express things here,I can’t express things anywhere. I will be okay, though. If you’re struggling with something similar, hold onto the days where it’ll get easier. We can get through this.

Do you find that talking to your family can be really hard?

From Elm 🙂

54 thoughts on “On Respecting Personal Boundaries and Family

  1. I’m just speechless at this piece. It’s emotional and beautifully written. I’ve been very lucky to have a family that I can talk to and that understand me, but there are still things that I have difficulty expressing or that I just can’t talk to them about for fear of shocking them or making them angry. I guess we all have different circumstances, and ways of dealing with things.

    • That’s so true. Expressing emotions to family can be so tricky, especially if you don’t know how they’ll react. I’m really glad you’ve had a mostly open communication with your family – that’s awesome. I’m really happy that you love this post; it took a lot out of me to write. I just want people to know that emotions aren’t so easy. Thank you for such an understanding comment xx

  2. I’m sorry you’re not able to communicate well with your mum but I am glad that you’ve taken steps forward *hugs*

    I find it pretty difficult to talk to my parents as well, mostly because they’re very over-protective of me since I’m their only child and they also don’t approve modern opinions. Usually if I say something they start talking about how it could go negatively and that gets me discouraged a lot. I still try time-to-time but mostly I’ve stopped approaching my parents on things that I don’t explicitly need them for. I’ve also stopped telling my dad about hanging out with my friends other than whom because there have been too many times that he’s told me stories about friends betraying friends which ended really badly. I agree that it’s meant to be cautionary but telling things like this EVERY TIME makes me feel like they don’t want me being close to anyone at all and that makes really sad.

    I’ve spoken so much as well! I really empathize with not being able to communicate well with family.

    • Ahhh Sumedha thank you so much for this. I can totally sympathise about your family telling you over and over that something will go wrong. My mum does that with the online world and it’s so upsetting, and unfair too because we’re happy how we are. Also, it might be so frustrating in that they don’t agree with modern values. Do you have a lot of clashes?
      Ahh, I know also what you mean about not telling them who you hang out with. Sometimes I get afraid I’ll be judged. Thank you for opening up about your experiences. I hope we both find communication easier soon xx

      • We do have a lot of clashes! And I HATE confrontation and fighting and yelling so I’ll just do whatever to appease them and move on because both my parents don’t back down. I end up biting my tongue and not saying anything about what I think/feel a lot.

        When my friends and I were done with school, we vowed to stay together. We’re all REALLY close and I can’t imagine life without them. But both my parents, experienced in life’s ways, said that we’ll probably lose touch in a few months and probably before we even finish college.

        I argued but they just said “that’s what happens, you’ll see” and I HATED that. My friends were the ones who made me want to come out of the house and live and I wish my parents had at least pretended to believe in me.

        I really do hope communication becomes better but I honestly don’t believe it’ll happen so I’m just going along.

      • No, I understand this. I have a similar thing with my friends. For them to undermine your friendships like that is so unhelpful because friends help us to survive; they’re the reason we have hope and a lot of friendships don’t fade. Life shouldn’t always be about finding new things because old friendships can be just as importand 🙂 If you’re feeling really down about anything, I’m always here to talk x

      • Yeah friendships are really important. Thank you! And if you want to talk, I’m willing to listen anytime as well 😊

  3. loved reading this! elm, so proud of you for letting this all out, and for being able to communicate with your mom. i know it can be extremely difficult to open up the way you did, and it’s so encouraging to hear how it all played out. you’re handling the situation so maturely by trying to look at both standpoints, and i greatly admire that 🙂 xx

    • Thank you, Sunny. It was so hard and is really tricky; I never know if I’m saying the right thing. Sometimes I find it so hard to be objective… I don’t know. I’m just glad people received this post well; it was terrifying to write because I didn’t want to come off as too opinionated. Thank you for your comment, love you xxx

  4. This is so well said, I couldn’t agree more. While I don’t struggle in all the same ways, it really is difficult to talk to family members about certain things sometimes. Well written, Elm!

  5. As someone who struggles with their family too I agree with you so much. Instead of the backing down, my mum uses the punishment method. If I start saying my opinion or call her out on something she does the “keep talking and you won’t go to so and so on the weekend ” or sometimes she does the “fine whatever” instead of actually listening to me. I think parents think that teenagers are always looking to start arguments instead of resolve the issue. I had a full mental breakdown in front of a family member once because they said something slightly racist and instead of listening to what I was trying to say, they were very defensive. I’m so sorry about how you feel and it’s important to know you’re not the only one. Your writing was beautiful in this and I can only hope everything gets better for you ❤️❤️

    • AHHH GOSH, same to you. Thank you so much for opening up about your family. I know what you mean about the defensiveness displayed by family memeber – I hate when they can’t learn from their mistakes. I’m really sorry to hear about your experiences 😦 it’s so horrible to go through it. If you need to talk, I’m here 🙂 xx

  6. It’s okay for you to be open and honest on this blog so don’t worry because I know a lot of people can relate. I do. I can get very angry with my parents because they don’t seem to ever listen. And then I get angry and we argue. Parents just don’t understand sometimes and it can be infuriating. I don’t really have any good advice to give you because to be honest, I’m still struggling with a similar issue, but I think it about trying to deal with your own emotions and anger and being a little patient when explaining to your mum. I know it can be hard though and I’m genuinely sorry that it’s hard to communicate and your mum says things that offend you!

    • Thank you so much for understanding. Yeah, it can be difficult – I find it hard to be patient and not lash out. It’s good to know that I’m not going through this alone. It just hurts when I don’t know how to control my emotions. Thanks for supporting me – I want to be more open with my blog now that I’m processing my emotions. I think we can get through this – if you ever need to talk about this, I’m a message away xx

      • Yeah, it can get hard to speak and try to explain how you feel when you’re emotional. That’s when I tend to lash out! If being open on your blog will help you then by all means do it! And same for you, I’m always here if you need to talk 😄

  7. My mum is the same, she likes to stick her nose into my business about relationships and also, my blog. It’s difficult to set that boundary but your sister seems like she is trying to help and she seems like a lovely person. I hope everything gets better ❤️x and I hope your English exam went well 🙂 x

  8. I love my parents, but teenage has changed me for the *insert word* IDK about what I used to, but surprisingly, when I remember my parents ❤ me, I trust them a lot 🙂 Really true post.

    • Thank you!!! I should remember this too – it’s just hard to, if they’re constantly on my back and it feels like they only care for themselves xx

  9. This post brought me to tears. Most of the times in my family it’s always my brother and my mom who fight all day, it almost seems like they don’t fucking stop. At the beginning I did say things to both of them but now I’ve given up, I’ve lost the will to listen and the will to speak. It’s annoying because sometimes my mother just lashes out on me and says things she shouldn’t have said and I just keep quiet I don’t even know what to say. I know she goes through a lot everyday and it gets difficult for me to keep up. But sometimes I just feel like running away, like to just leave the house on my own and go to a place where I can be alone with my thoughts. And this post just made me realise that sometimes you have to do it, you have to just leave for an hour or for a few hours just so you can gain back something that is slipping through your fingers. I’m proud of you Elm. I hope everything gets better. 💖

    • Hi, Sam. Thank you so much for opening up about your experiences. It sounds so awful and emotionally exhausting but your honesty is the first step to helping yourself, and your brother, through it.

      You aren’t alone. When she’s shouting and being unreasonable, it might feel like it but there are so many people out there to support you. By talking about how you feel – I know it can be so difficult and can make you feel guilty because you’re scared you’re being ungrateful – you’re showing yourself that there are ways of dealing with what she says. I really, really hope that things get better. If you need help, or someone to talk to, I promise I’m always here. I don’t mean that meaninglessly – I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t do anything, to feel helpless and to want to stay silent. It can be draining and so if you need someone who won’t judge you, I’m here.

      I admire you for writing that comment because it must have taken a lot. It’s okay to feel this way. Your emotions can be overwhelming and scary too but they are yours and she can’t take that from you. Thank you xx

  10. Hey there!
    I relate to this post, I often start screaming at my mom for nothing and then we end up discussing about how she was just expressing her point of view. Things will get better, I promise. If you need to talk, I am here! Hoping to know you more 🙂
    -A teen girl

    • Ahhh, thank you so much. I needed to hear that – I often forget that things will pass and that it will be okay. I just have to hold onto it.
      YES – you seem really nice!! Do you have a Twitter or an email we could talk on?
      Likewise – if you need someone to talk to, I promise I’m here.
      Love from Elm 🙂

      • Hahha you kinda do know me, not personally but yeah I’ve talked to you before through comments. I’m not disclosing myself yet.. so I can’t chat through emails ig 😦

      • No don’t worry, that’s okay!! I totally understand 🙂 I don’t think I recognise your name but did we talk when you had your old blog? (Obviously I won’t be asking what it was because I saw you said on your blog that you don’t want to reveal that information yet) X

  11. Talking to family is one of the hardest things to do especially when y I have something important to discuss, figure out or disclose. I always try to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19,20) which can help to keep things calm long enough for real communication. I recently read an article about having a successful family dynamic. It offers some advice for everyone in the family to improve talking to one another. Here’s a link: https://www.jw.org/finder?wtlocale=E&issue=2018-07&pub=g18&srcid=share

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