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How to Set Boundaries With Adult Siblings

by Timothy Burns

Relational boundaries are a valuable part of adult life as they establish emotional safety between people. However, when a family member continually tramples boundaries by mistreating or disrespecting you, the only solution is setting reasonable limits to the relationship. Personal boundaries are healthy limits set by one person to prevent someone else from taking advantage of a relationship or acting disrespectfully. Setting relationship boundaries is a proactive way of saying to friends and relatives: "I will respect you and I request that you respect me."

Identify and consider any family relationships that have caused you to feel disrespected or ill-used.

Spend time journaling about personal relationships and situations with family members in which you have felt disrespected, manipulated or ill-used. Write down the details of the circumstances and events. Look for patterns or recurring situations in which people take advantage of you.

Decide in advance a more acceptable outcome to a situation or relationship in which you felt disrespected. By thinking through the events outside of the conflict, you can decide how to make changes in the relationship.

Call the family member and arrange to meet her casually. Pick a favorite restaurant for dinner or a park for a casual walk to discuss your new decisions and boundaries with her. Pick an open, public location so that neither party feels confined or trapped. By selecting a comfortable environment, your conversation will have a likelier chance of success.

Discuss the events and your feelings with the family member. Do not accuse or attack her, or attempt to tell her what you believe her thoughts or motives were. Rather, using "I statements" such as "I did . . ." or "When you did this, I felt . . ." communicate your thoughts clearly to the family member.

Finally, summarize the event by informing the family member of your new chosen course of action. State your position calmly and peacefully. Do not wait for, or depend on, the family member agreeing with you. In the event she begins to argue, simply restate your position and your choice and end the conversation.

Items you will need
  • A personal journal


  • Setting boundaries with an offending person will likely feel awkward. In some cases, the offending person will recognize the wisdom in the new, intentional course of action and accept your thoughts and feelings. In many other cases, the offending person is likely to blame, accuse, or justify their own behavior. By patiently refusing to accept the other person's codependent choices, you can set new boundaries which will help create more peaceful relationships with family members.

About the Author

Since 2003, Timothy Burns' writing has appeared in magazines, management and leadership papers. He has contributed to nationally published books and he leads the Word Weavers of West Michigan writers' group. Burns wrote "Forged in the Fire" in 2004, and has published numerous articles online. As a trained conference speaker, Burns speaks nationally on the art, science and inspiration of freelance writing.

Photo Credits

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