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  • Writer's pictureAna Viana, M.S.

Addressing Barriers to Setting Boundaries With Your Parents as a BIPOC Adult

By Ana Viana, M.S.


So you are using all the right techniques that you have learned online, through books, via IG, and other social media means to improve your relationship with your parents but still feel no improvement. Everyone says: you need boundaries, you need healthy communication skills. But when you get started, you hit a wall. You question yourself, why can I have a better relationship with my parents? Why isn’t this working? While each journey is unique and ultimately does require you to have a partner in it to help you learn and adjust as you go, what I find in my work with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) adults who want to establish healthy boundaries with their parents is two big barriers: the fear that comes before and the anxiety that comes after.

Let’s talk about the fear.

When working with clients, I often hear that they wished they had a better relationship with their parents but they often feel guilty or selfish when they put into practice the skills they need in order to build that (i.e. boundaries!) You might find it difficult to deal with the (very real) fear that your parents may guilt you, shame you, and call you selfish/ungrateful. You probably experienced this kind of response from your parents and it may lead you to feel like ignoring your needs in your parent-child relationship is the best way to deal.

But not dealing with it also hurts.

This fear is often the biggest piece that often holds us back, so it’s the fear that needs some soothing.

Dealing with the fear:

I help clients deal with fear in two main ways: changing perspectives and developing coping tools. Changing perspectives requires in-depth work for insight and self-awareness. Together we explore your childhood messages and how your family, community, society, religion, etc. all shaped those messages. This takes time and it takes work but for the purposes of these few minutes together, here is one way I like to start:

I like to encourage clients to ask themselves what age they feel when they are around their parents. So– what age do you feel when you speak to your parents?

It's likely that you might feel like a child or teenager due to the lack of voice you feel you have with your parents. Where you ever asked what you needed? What you wanted? Using your voice is new. So keep this perspective in mind when you feel anxious or fearful.

This is inner child work, and it can be so powerful. It allows us to clarify the perspective that we are being selfish by asking for our needs or setting boundaries into a more accurate description: advocating for your inner child who never had a voice before.

Once you've started to change your perspective and practicing inner child work, the next piece is to use coping tools. You'll most likely still feel some anxiety about your parents response so let's talk about how to deal with the anxiety that comes with expressing a boundary.

The Boundary Anxiety

Even thinking of establishing a boundary can be activating to our nervous system. We might be thinking of all the worst-case scenarios about our parent's reaction. And when you actually set a boundary, even if the worst does not happen, we may still feel our nervous system needs some caring for.

This is where your coping tools come in. Any activity that helps you feel grounded, calmer, safer can be a coping tool. From taking deep breaths to going for walk, the purpose if to help your body feel safe again. I often work with my clients in planning for the use of coping tools before engaging in a boundary-setting conversation with their parent and after.

You might also find it helpful to plan out some responses to how they may react. Remember that these are ongoing conversations and they may need some time to process and come to terms with a new dynamic in your relationship.

Setting boundaries with your parents can be challenging-- especially for as people of color because BIPOC Cultures are often collective cultures. Setting boundaries can feel like a very individualistic action and it can conflict with our values of family and often authoritative and patriarchal family structures. These elements are important to make room for and process in your journey-- it's something I always make sure to hold space for my clients in our work together.

Resources from our Wellness Shop:

If you need some extra support building those boundaries and managing difficult conversations, check out some of our guides from our Wellness shop below.

Ana Viana, M.S.

Ana Viana, M.S. is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and an outpatient clinician at TOC Therapy. She specializes in supporting BIPOC Adults managing anxiety, building self-love, and processing family dynamics. Ana believes that self-love also builds inner strength and is the basis for all healthy relationships. She takes a holistic approach to healing, integrating art and creativity interventions as well as body-centered tools like cognitive behavioral and somatic processing. Request a free consultation to work with Ana.


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