Boundaries matter: shitty parents and family members are not worth your sanity
By Erin White
May 17, 2017
Having good parents and family is a privilege. A privilege in the sense that, yes, everyone deserves good parents, but in reality, many people aren’t positively and fundamentally changed by having children. Shitty or abusive people often just become shitty people with kids.
You don’t owe your parents anything. Yes, they “brought you into this world”, but that’s a favor nobody asked for. Like Jesus on the cross—literally, nobody made such a request on our behalf. But, jokes aside, giving birth is not an inherent stamp of ownership. You are your own, autonomous person. And as such, you are in fact entitled to a basic level of personal respect. And what I mean by that is that every facet of your identities should be respected by the people close to you.
Don’t feel guilty for deciding not to entertain abuse.
Don’t feel guilty for not knowing how to leave abuse.
Wanting or needing a relationship with your family, despite how they’ve hurt you, is valid and it’s what you deserve. That said, in life, most people won’t live up to what you deserve. And sometimes those people are parents incapable of providing you with the closeness and care you are so deserving of. Accepting those deficiencies in people who you’ve been indoctrinated to believe will intrinsically do right by you is a constant struggle. And worse, so is killing the idea that other people failing you is based on your own lovability and worth.
This can drive you to pursue these painful relationships for a sense of validation. This is not a shameful act, but an act of survival, in my opinion. Untangling yourself from an abusive relationship is one of the greatest battles many of us will ever face. You don’t have to cut ties faster than you know how to. Baby steps.
Every familial unit has a degree of dysfunction. But there is only so much dysfunction any person can take before compromising their mental health and stability.
As with romantic and sexual relationship, setting boundaries with your parents and family is crucial—first for yourself and, second, for the health of the relationship (if you’re interested in having one at all). There are some things that should be non-negotiable. What are those non- negotiables ? Anything abusive. Gas-lighting, lying/manipulation, emotional withholding, physical and verbal violence, mean put-downs they try to pass off as “criticisms”, neglect, aggression, judgment/condemnation, etc.
Anything that makes you feel shame/guilt/unworthiness is questionable and should be addressed. Assessing how these interactions with your family make you feel is a solid first step for determining the type of relationship you’re comfortable having with them.
Some people on the outside may shame you, too, for not connecting with your family or de-prioritizing the relationships with them, despite abuse and severe dysfunction. Those people should go, too. Because the sad reality is, some mamas ain’t shit. The good news is you don’t have to tolerate it.
*Erin White is an Atlanta-based writer and AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.