What Prince Harry and Meghan Markle can teach us about setting boundaries with family

BACKGROUND

On Wednesday January 9th 2020, their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, AKA Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their plans to step down as senior members of the Royal Family and move to North America.  While I am not an avid follower of the happenings of the Royal family, it was hard not to take notice of the impact of this decision.  The British Royal Family has been a symbol of pride and tradition for many, many years.  The pomp and circumstance around Royal weddings and royal births have become major news even here across the pond. 

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex got married on May 18, 2018 and welcomed their first child into the world on May 9, 2019.  Since that time, there have been rumors of discord within the family and much discontent with Harry regarding the treatment of his wife.  We may never know what happened behind the scenes and whether some of the tension is related to the Duchess’s African American roots, but as of yesterday, we do know that Prince Harry had to make what was probably one of the most difficult decisions of his life.  He and his wife made a decision to walk away from the expectations of one of the richest, most powerful and most influential families in the world.

EXPERIENCE

As a Marriage and Family therapist for over a decade, I can say that a person’s inability to set healthy boundaries with family members is often a major source of anxiety and depression. So many people are living lives that were not designed by them, for the sake of making others feel good. We are raised to believe that family is everything and that blood is thicker than water.  That pretty much translates to, no matter how abusive, toxic, or dysfunctional a family may be, loyalty trumps personal wellbeing. Regardless of the type of family we come from, as adults we all seem to struggle with making decisions for our own best interest if we think those decisions will hurt, disappoint, or displease the people we care about.  It doesn’t matter if there was legitimate abuse or if you have a controlling mother or critical father, setting boundaries is hard!  

BOUNDARIES
Boundaries are the emotional or physical space that we create between ourselves and others.  This space is created as a way to show people how we expect to be treated within the relationship.  Setting boundaries can ensure that relationships are mutually respectful, caring and appropriate. On paper, boundaries sound amazing! The rub happens due to the fact that everyone has a different idea of what the boundaries of a relationship should be and a different viewpoint on how you should operate in your life.

The relationship between adult child and parent is a breeding ground for mix-matched expectations and boundary violations. Telling your family you aren’t going to Thanksgiving dinner because you want to spend time with the family of a close friend may seem unacceptable in some homes.  Asking your critical father to refrain from speaking negatively about your decision to leave a secure job and start your own business can be viewed as downright disrespectful, while telling your powerful traditional British grandmother that you are stepping down from the duties you have been groomed for since birth is world news! The journey to forge ahead in your life and make the decisions necessary for your own wellbeing are not always smiled upon, but it is the only way to live the life that was meant for you.

THE LESSON
Regardless of how you feel about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision, even if you don’t care at all, they are a real-life example of the courage that it takes to decide to live a life of your choosing.  They have verbalized love of their family and the monarchy as well as love for their newly created union and their freedom. Setting boundaries with families has the ability to end generational toxicity. I applaud the Duke and Duchess for answering their call to courage and doing the uncomfortable work of living in their truth. I urge you to self-reflect and see if there are areas in your own life where resentment is building because you haven’t been able to set the limits necessary for your own mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.  I acknowledge that for some this may seem like an impossible task, but I know with the right support that it can be done.  The freedom that is felt is most often worth the discomfort and in most cases the family members that you think will never speak to you again, in time learn to love you for the person you are, not the person they wanted you to be. 

Saudia Turney, MA, LMFT- Supervisor is the co owner of the Friendswood Center for Couples and Families. She has been in practice for 10 years and works with Adults, Couples, and older teens in Friendswood, Texas and the surrounding areas.

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