“It’s important to keep in mind that we decide the value people have in our lives, which means we can significantly control how much they affect us. It also means we can decide how much space they can take up in our minds.” – Chidera Eggerue, How To Get Over A Boy.
The first year of my twenties has brought me a whole range of life lessons that have been exciting, challenging, and character-building. Still, one of these teachings in particular stands out amongst the others, and I am equal parts proud and ashamed that it started with my favourite character from an episode of my favourite television series, Marshall in How I Met Your Mother.
It is far too easy to expect less of our family members, especially in our twenties, after we have spent so long being conditioned to put them on these protective pedestals, coated in bubble wrap. You might have even heard yourself throwing around the phrases “you can’t pick your family” and “blood is thicker than water”. Eventually, most of us get to a point where we find it far easier to put boundaries into place with strangers and friends, because we feel as though we don’t ‘owe’ them anything- they seem a little more ‘disposable’.
To make matters worse, very often, our family know that the above is the case, and proceed to utilise the fact that we excuse poor treatment, and a lack of respect, from our relatives in order to get what they want and push us to our emotional limits.
So, it might surprise you to know that the full quote is actually: “the blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb“.
Yes, the quote that you have been repeating over and over in your head during Christmas, as your Nana drives you around the bend asking when she can expect her first grandchild, is being used in the completely incorrect context. What it actually means is that the family you choose is stronger than genetic ties.
Part of the issue with putting strict boundaries into place in the same way that you would with a friend is that your relationships with family members can be very different (often, much closer) than other people in your life. Perhaps you feel as though you should reserve that extra wiggle room for slip ups with someone who you are incredibly close with? That’s all down to personal opinion, but for me, it only makes me think that I should hold them even higher in my expectations, and means that they should have even more of a reason to respect my boundaries. I expect more of my family and friends than I do a stranger, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Something that has helped me with navigating confusing family boundaries was asking myself one question every time that a relative upset me: if this person wasn’t a family member, would you let them treat you this way? Whenever I did this, the answer was no, and I immediately knew that there was a problem. From then onwards, I stopped reserving my anger at people betraying my boundaries for friendships and my love life, and began to extend it to my family, too.
Even though we are all fed up of thinking about Coronavirus, it can be incredibly beneficial to think of your life in terms of the two-metre rule: we aren’t allowing infected (or potentially infected) people into our personal space. If you turn that two-metre space into your personal life, and those infected with COVID-19 into family members who harness toxicity, you will have created a wonderful and peaceful life where your family is your choice, not somebody else’s right.
We need to start holding our family as accountable for hurting us as the other people in our lives. We need to stop giving people a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card just because they’re related to us. We need to allow ourselves the freedom of being able to only surround ourselves with people who bring us joy and inspiration.
Your emotional wellbeing is not a tax that you pay for being related to someone, especially when you have no say in the matter in the first place. We already live in a world that profits from our own insecurities, so don’t you dare settle for, or become co-dependent on, a family member that loves to point them out to you.
You deserve better.
Words by Morgan Hartley.
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