Setting Healthy Boundaries With Abusive Parents

Setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents can be tough. You might feel a bit lost and confused about how to do it.

It's ok, that's perfectly normal. Like any other personal development skill, it will take you time and practice. But you can get there.


Why Getting Selfish Is The First Step - Plus 6 Other Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries With Abusive Parents

Selfish? You're thinking, "why would I want to be selfish?" All too often, as a child abuse victim you may be bending over backwards trying to please other people. You might be afraid to step on someone's toes, or you might feel guilty even at the thought of just telling your parents "No" for the first time in your life.

Now, what I'm really saying is you need to take care of your own needs and your own healing (and possibly your children) first. That comes before anything else. You need to be selfish about taking care of yourself (and your children). Strive to be a like a lion defending its cubs when it comes to taking care of your healing needs.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading a book by William Ury called The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes Instead of saying "no" right off the bat, Ury suggests you first stop and discover your "yes." By this he encourages you to be "selfish" and focus on your "yes," that is, why you want to say "no" in the first place.


Tip #1: Get a clear, motivating reason why you have to set boundaries with your abusers

Do you have children you need to protect?

Do you realize you just can't have your parents (or whomever is dragging you down) in your life while you are trying to heal?

Whatever the reason is for you, I want you to really take time out and listen to yourself. Listen to yourself with as much care as possible and act from there - not out of fear, anger, or guilt - but love for yourself. Get selfish.


You may be feeling some fear and anxiety over having to set boundaries for the first time. Like I said, it's perfectly understandable. Here's a good way to deal with it.

Tip #2: Have a backup plan

Think it through. What is the worst thing that can happen when you set your boundary? Setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents means being prepared to deal with the consequences.

Picture of Crossing Out Plan A, Writing Plan B

Time for Plan B

Will your parents cut threaten to cut you out of their life (or actually do it)? Write down some ways you think you could deal with the fallout in terms of your feelings and actions you could take.

Knowing you already have some alternatives mapped out when you start setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents helps turn fear into confidence. You might not like the outcome, but at least you know you can handle it.

Now you may be worrying that your parents will pressure you unrelentingly. You know you've tried setting boundaries before, but you always caved. This brings us to...

Tip #3: Be a broken record when setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents

Have you ever seen a little kid plug his ears and just say the word "no" like a broken record again and again to something he or she doesn't want? It's a funny sight to behold.

Picture of Broken Record

Broken Record

But you can do it too, although in a more adult way. Come up with a stock phrase that you can repeat over and over again under unrelenting pressure. Ideally, it would be respectful, but firm. Here are some ideas in case you're stuck.

"No thank you, that won't work for me."

"This is the way I've decided to do it from now on."

"This is the way that works for me right now."

What are some stock phrases that would work for you?

As a human being committed to your own self improvement and healing, you're entitled to certain rights.

Tip #4: Know your emotional bill of rights

The article on coming up with your emotional bill of rights dealt with setting healthy boundaries. It gave you a list of rights you are entitled to. Can you add any others to the list?

If you've ever watched Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? you know contestants who are asked questions get something called a "lifeline" - a chance to call someone they know for the answer.

Tip #5: Get your own supportive lifeline

Whether you have a therapist (something I highly encourage if you feel like you have no one who understands you) or a supportive friend, it's important to be able to lean on people we can trust. Practicing setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents may bring up old issues and dredge up painful feelings, so it can be really helpful to have someone to give you emotional support and validation.

Tip #6: Set boundaries for yourself

Are there certain situations in which you have trouble setting boundaries? Setting healthy boundaries with abusive parents may mean you have to avoid those situations for a while.

If you know that every Thanksgiving your mom pressures you into unwillingly spending Christmas at the house of the grandfather who abused you, and you know you can't say no, think about not spending Thanksgiving there for a while.

A part of your healing is empowering yourself with choices and decisions that take you out of the victim role and into a fully independent adult. Set boundaries for yourself and make a pledge to stay out of certain situations you know you can't handle effectively until you're ready.

Tip #7: Reward yourself when you start setting boundaries with abusive parents

Even if you feel it's a tiny victory along your journey, reward your behavior with something you like. Rewards reinforce our changes.

If you're in an advanced stage of healing and you are learning how to say "no" assertively to others, William Ury's The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes has some simple ideas with entertaining stories that can help you. It's written from more of a business perspective, but there are still great tips that can help you in dealing with others.


Your Courageous Call To Action:

What is one way you can begin setting boundaries with your abusive parents right now? Apply the tips. Over the course of the next 30 days, see if you can notice any improvements in your life as a result of this.



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