Remember that asserting yourself doesn't make you mean. In fact, you can use these phrases to protect your boundaries while being kind and empathetic:
“I want to talk to you about it, but not here. How about coffee tomorrow?”
Sometimes family members want to bring up personal issues at really inappropriate times. Instead of getting drawn into a conversation that will end in frustration and distance, you have the right to ask for some space. You can assert yourself by offering an alternative time to talk. At the same time, you’re making it clear that you are not rejecting them.
“Wow, you really knocked yourself out! Thank you so much!”
This is pre-emptive empathy. It’s best used with the auntie who always complains about how early she got up to start making her sweet potato casserole. Of course, everyone wants her to show up because they love the dessert. They just don’t like the side of whining that comes with it. By acknowledging her hard work up front, you can satisfy some of her need to be appreciated, which was possibly the whole point anyway.
And then there are those times that you need to be a little more direct to get your point across:
“Let’s set some rules.”
If history has shown that your brothers bicker viciously every year, or that your cousins ignore their kids when they’re jumping up and down on the sofa, you need to let everyone know what you expect from the beginning. By laying down the law early, you make it clear that while everyone is welcome, they also have a responsibility to behave considerately.
“Thank you for the advice, but it’s ultimately my decision.”
Your family members, particularly parents and older siblings, may still think of you as someone who needs a lot of guidance. While it’s great to have loved ones who are so concerned, it’s not so great to have them offering comments that range from unsolicited advice to strident orders. Even if you’ve made some mistakes (and we all have) you don’t have to let others make your decisions for you.
“I like it that way.”
People who seem to love questioning your decisions can put you on the defensive. You don’t have to explain everything you do. When your grandmother with a history of challenging your taste wants to know why you colored your hair, you can just smile and honestly tell her you like it that way.
“A good therapist could help you with this.”
If someone you love is constantly coming to you with problems that you can't really help with, it might be weighing on you. Since over-venting isn't actually helpful, the most loving thing you could do is suggest that the person go to someone who can actually help them with their issues. You can even send them a link to https://www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy/ to point them in the right direction.
Enforcing boundaries isn't always easy, but it becomes more natural as you get used to it. Don't give up: as you show others how to treat you, you'll also be giving them an example of how they can do the same for themselves.