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How do we communicate our needs and speak our truth to family and friends?
Who is our family or tribe? Who are our trusted people?

Contributing Writer: Lissa E. Bradford, CPLC, BCC, MDiv.

As we mark Pride Month, it's a great time to assess our emotional support systems and how we communicate our specific needs to family and friends.

The energies of the people we have around us that are safe, nurturing, and positive can be a huge help as we navigate the challenges of life!

But too often we remain in relationships that are unhealthy, non-supportive, energy-draining and even toxic. Dr. Judith Orloff calls them, "energy vampires." It's such an accurate description. We all know some "energy vampires" in our lives. Many times, our blood family can be these people.

Sometimes the anxiety and fear of conflict or the manipulation and control we succumb to from others can be overwhelming. For persons who are weighing the "pros" and "cons" of having a hard conversation, whether coming out to family and friends, or setting new boundaries with loved ones or co-workers, those relationships- good or negative- can magnify exponentially. Right?

The "good" supports become very clear, very quickly when we're needing safe space. But the negative energies, agendas and persons (energy vampires) also become very clear.

What do we do when those negative persons are our blood family? How do we appropriately deal with those relationships? The answers can be complicated.

There are two distinctive parts to address: 1) Who do we know is safe and supportive for us in our blood family. Who do we anticipate will not be safe or supportive for us in our blood family? And 2) Who are the safe, supportive persons in our chosen family? In the family we have created with other loved ones and friends?

For persons struggling with little or no family support, friends- those persons in our "chosen family," - can provide crucial emotional support, acceptance, and understanding. A chosen family is a group who have chosen to come together and form a bond and sense of "family," "community," a safe emotional space to process feelings and events of life.

Friends can offer a safe and supportive space where LGBTQ+ individuals can express their true selves without fear of rejection, judgment, or discrimination. This support network can help persons navigate difficult family relationships and provide a sense of belonging and community. Friends can also offer practical help and advice, such as finding LGBTQ+ friendly resources and services, especially as things are changing so rapidly in Florida.

Ultimately, friends can be invaluable in helping LGBTQ+ individuals feel accepted, loved, and supported, even when their blood families may not be able to provide safe support.

So, where to begin?

Here are some basic steps that can help you set good boundaries and practice good communication skills with anyone:

  1. Identify at least one person, preferably two or three, who you trust completely. Be protective of who you let in to your inner circle. Value and nurture those relationships. That is your "tribe."

  2. Identify the boundaries you need to set with persons: Take some time to deeply reflect on your needs and values. Decide specifically what you need to communicate in a conversation.

  3. What can wait till another conversation? It's generally wise to not overwhelm people, especially if you anticipate push-back.

  4. What kind of behaviors, actions, or words from your family members make you uncomfortable or upset? What pushes your emotional buttons? Are you willing to remove yourself from a situation if you become uncomfortable or unsafe?

  5. Speak your truth. Communicate your boundaries: It's important to communicate in a clear and respectful manner. You can start by letting them know that you need to have a conversation about some things that are important to you, and that you'd like them to listen and respect your right to safely communicate, without interruption. (This is a big one. People LOVE to interrupt!)

  6. Be consistent: Clarity, Brevity, Compassion. These are essential basics to good communication! Stick to your boundaries, even if some family members/friends/ whoever, push back or react negatively. It's important to be firm, but kind, brief and consistent, so that persons you're addressing understand that these boundaries are non-negotiable.

  7. Seek support: Setting boundaries can be difficult, especially if you have been in a pattern of codependency or enabling behavior with your family or an unhealthy partner. Consider seeking support from a counselor, life coach, a support group, or a trusted friend or mentor who can offer guidance and encouragement as you navigate this process.

  8. Take care of yourself! Remember that setting boundaries is an act of self-care. Be kind to yourself and prioritize your emotional and physical well-being as you work to establish healthy boundaries with your family, friends, or co-workers.

Remember that you do not have to navigate this by yourself unless you choose to. There is help available!

Check the Tampa Bay Gay LGBTQ+ Ally Business Directory for information and resources (Alternative Health & Counseling).

Lissa E. Bradford (She/ Her) is a Certified Professional Life Coach and Counselor with 17 years' experience partnering with people to teach them new, empowering tools to live their highest good. Her company, Healthy Boundary Society, LLC provides counseling support virtually using online video platforms. She is a cisgender ally for the LGBTQ+ community. Lissa is Pastor of the Church on the Bayou of Tarpon Springs: an open and affirming community. Lissa is married and loves animals, birds, fish and plants.


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