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35 Scripts for Trauma Survivors to Set Family Boundaries

A comprehensive cheat sheet.

Key points

  • Family boundaries are necessary to protect you, and they might also improve your family relationships.
  • You decide how you participate in emotionally charged conversations, if you choose to participate at all.
  • You do not need to explain your boundaries if you cannot or don't wish to do so.
Pixels/Nicole Michalou
Source: Pixels/Nicole Michalou

Survivors of developmental trauma often experience family dynamics that are unsafe, unhealthy, and unsupportive. If you’re a survivor, establishing boundaries with your family can feel like one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Yet these boundaries are necessary to protect you, and they might also improve your family relationships.

Consider using these scripts to help you to establish boundaries with your family concerning potentially inflammatory topics, such as safety, child-rearing, and any other topic that can feel emotionally charged.

Safety

You may not feel physically or emotionally safe when engaging with your family, and you might need to establish boundaries to promote your safety or the safety of others.

Consider using these scripts:

  • This year, I’ll be celebrating with [my friends, my partner, my partner’s family, or myself] and won’t be able to attend. I know this might feel disappointing.
  • I will not attend if [specific person/people] will be present as I do not feel safe with them.
  • I won’t be attending. [no explanation needed]
  • I will attend, but I will not be left alone with [specific person/people] for any reason.
  • I will spend time with you outdoors, but not indoors.
  • I will keep my mask on while indoors. Please respect my need to feel physically safe.
  • It’s upsetting to me when you comment on my appearance when I visit. I feel hurt and judged. If you want me to continue visiting, you must stop commenting on my appearance.
  • Instead of hugging, let’s [shake hands, fist bump, high five].
  • No, thank you, I don’t wish to be touched.
  • As an adult, I make my own decisions.

Emotionally Charged Conversations

Politics, religion, death, and trauma are a few of the topics that may come up in conversations with family members. These conservations can trigger intense emotional reactions in you and others. Ultimately, you decide how you participate in these conversations (if you choose to participate at all), and you can communicate your choices to your family members.

Consider using these scripts:

  • I appreciate how strongly you feel about this. I feel strongly about it too. I think it’s best not to talk about this now. Let’s reconnect at a later time.
  • I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, so it’s hard for me to focus on your feedback. I am going to take a break.
  • I feel embarrassed when you bring this up in front of everyone. Next time, please talk to me about this topic in private.
  • My thoughts and feelings are equally as important as yours. If you want me to listen, you must also listen to me. Is this something you can do?
  • I appreciate hearing your opinion, but I’m not prepared to change my mind.
  • If you’d like to continue this discussion, I need you to stop commenting on [my weight, appearance, partner, sexuality, the past].
  • That has not been [isn’t] my experience.
  • At this point, we need to agree to disagree.

Children

A child’s primary caregiver is ultimately responsible for the welfare of the child. Your family members may or may not be biologically related to your child, have close relationships with your child, or expect to be in charge of your child. Still, they are not your child’s primary caregivers, and they are not ultimately responsible for your child. If you are a child's primary caregiver, then you have every right to establish any boundaries you deem necessary to care for your child.

Consider using these scripts:

  • Please ask my permission before asking for my child’s input.
  • Do not use those words in the presence of my children.
  • Please do not have these conversations with or in my child’s presence.
  • You may ask my child if they wish to hug you but don’t force them. Please, respect their physical boundaries.
  • Please do not allow my child to [have an item or engage in an activity].
  • Thank you for your feedback. I will tackle this issue with [my child, co-parent], and I’ll reach out to you if I need additional feedback.
  • As their caregiver, I am responsible for their welfare so I will make the final decision.
  • When it concerns my child, this matter is non-negotiable.

Simple Scripts

Do you always need to explain why you need a specific boundary? No, you don’t. There may even be moments when you want to explain, but you cannot due to feeling overwhelmed or unsafe in the conversation. Therefore, you might need a few simple and easy-to-remember scripts when you are asked to provide an explanation:

  • I’m sorry, I can’t.
  • I’m not going to discuss this with you.
  • I’m not obligated to explain myself to you.
  • I have my reasons.
  • I prefer not to say.
  • I need you to trust that I know what I need.
  • No, for my reasons that I’m not going to share.
  • No. (without an explanation)
  • Silence. (saying nothing is communication)

Establishing boundaries with your family can feel like one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Yet, with practice, it can become easier.

References

Brockways, Laura Hale. 12/30/21. 59 Phrases to Help You Set Boundaries. PR Daily. https://www.prdaily.com/59-phrases-to-help-you-set-boundaries

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