No one likes to be taken advantage of, but when the person using you is a member of your own family, it can be tricky to know how to protect yourself. Maybe you are the dutiful daughter who simply can't say no to mom. Maybe you're the protective big sister who bails out your siblings when they get into trouble. Whatever your role, you can learn how to establish healthy boundaries with your family members and protect yourself in the long term.
Examine your own boundary system. If someone is continuously taking advantage of you -- whether it's to borrow your money or to dump all their problems on you -- you are not setting firm boundaries that establish you as an individual with her own goals, needs, and desires. While certain family members might be particularly egregious in taking from you, you are the one allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Take responsibility for how you allow and invite this behavior in the first place.
Practice saying "no." Part of affirming your own boundaries and your individuality is being able to say no to people when they ask something of you. If you are intimated by the idea of saying no to your husband, your child, your sister or your father, practice saying no in other areas of your life, with peers, friends, colleagues, or strangers. Let go of the myth that saying no means you are unkind, cold, or selfish. Saying no is a way of affirming your own desires, to yourself and to others.
Be willing to sever ties. Don't expect your family members may not react well to your new found sense of assertiveness, especially if you've always been seen as "the kind one" or "the dependable one." If you have fulfilled a role for years, or even decades, your family will likely still see you as the person they've taken advantage of all these years. Be willing to sever ties, whether physically or emotionally, from family members who do not respect your improved boundary system.
Confront the issue. If it's a problem you have with just one family member, confront this individual about how their behavior makes you feel. Use the "I feel...when you...because..." model. For example: "I feel resentful when you assume I will always pick Jane up from school because I also have things I'd like to do in the afternoon." There is a chance that the person you are talking to will have no idea that you felt this way, especially if you've never said anything in the past, and will be willing to work out a way to make you feel better about the situation.
- Codepedent No More; Melody Beattie
- Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life; Jan Black
- Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day; Anne Katherine
Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.