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Ask Sahaj: I’m trying to talk to my mom less. How can I stop feeling guilty?

(Washington Post illustration)

Sahaj Kaur Kohli, creator of Brown Girl Therapy, will be answering questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for Kohli, please submit it here.

Dear Sahaj: I am trying to practice boundary setting, and recently set a new boundary with my mom around how often we talk. We usually talk daily, but I realized that I felt bad every time I got off the phone with her. She hasn’t really responded to this new boundary, or said anything about how it makes her feel. It’s been a couple of weeks, and we’ve been talking only once a week now. But when I call her, I can’t help but feel really guilty that I am making her feel bad. How do I deal with this?

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– Feeling guilty

Feeling guilty: Sticking to a new boundary is never easy — so it’s important to remember why you set it in the first place.

You’ve been able to identify that when you get off the phone with your mom every day you feel bad. I’d encourage you to think this through a step further. Why does it make you feel bad? Is it because of something your mom says every time? Is it rooted in a history of the dynamic you two have? Is it because you generally struggle with setting micro-boundaries for when you are free, and feel resentment when you want to be spending your time differently? Or is it something else?

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It also sounds like you may be assuming your mom is upset. If you haven’t yet had an honest conversation about why you set the boundary, that may be a first step. It will not only give you space to communicate what you’re feeling, but it can also let your mom respond and tell you how she actually feels. By modeling and inviting honesty into the relationship, you might save yourself the heartache of trying to mind-read, and prevent yourself from having negative feelings about a reaction that may not even be true.

Remember: Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty. Maintaining this boundary might feel new and uncomfortable and wrong, but it does not mean it is wrong. Your mom is allowed to be disappointed by your boundary, and you are also allowed to stick by it.

Instead of focusing on the unproductive feeling that you took something away from your mom, I would invite you to consider that you made an adjustment to a dynamic so you can engage from a healthier and more present place. What’s really happening is that you’re deciding not to extend yourself beyond your own emotional and mental capacity.