Written by Arise therapist Ashely Toti, LCSW-A and Angel Archer MSW Student/Intern
Holiday Season. Yep, that’s right. Two words that can make you anxious just reading it. The holiday season is often a great time for many individuals who are able to spend time with their family and loved ones. It’s often a time where we might feel a heightened level of stress and anxiety knowing that we will be spending time with our family. Want to know a secret to making this year “the most wonderful time of the year?” Boundaries. Yep, that’s right. One word that can also make you anxious just reading it. Boundaries are a set of healthy guidelines or limits that a person creates to identify ways that others can behave or treat them.
Implementing boundaries with your family and loved ones can be a challenge, but they are necessary in creating an environment where you feel loved and valued during this holiday season (and all other seasons!).
When we set healthy boundaries, we are allowing ourselves to not only celebrate the true meaning of the holidays, but to celebrate our self-worth too. Below are various steps highlighting how to create and implement boundaries with our loved ones.
Plan ahead. Planning ahead can reduce anxious feelings surrounding these conversations. You may find that your family is willing to respect your boundaries. On the other hand, you may be well aware that you are going to get some push back. Entering these conversations with a plan that includes what boundaries you want to set, why they are important to you, and ways you would like to see your boundaries respected could make the conversations easier for you and your family.
Communicate what is off-limits. Once you have identified situations or behaviors that you are absolutely not comfortable with, make sure to communicate those clearly with your family. Communicate that it is imperative that these boundaries are respected and not crossed. Examples of these boundaries:
Adhering to the governor’s recommendation and protecting our family is really important to me. We will not be coming over for dinner if there are more than 10 people.
Uncle John makes my child feel uncomfortable. Do not ask my child if Uncle John can have a hug.
Decide what you are willing to compromise on. There may be some circumstances where you are willing to have flexible boundaries. It is still important to have a conversation with your family about these boundaries beforehand, but there is an understanding that depending on the situation you may be willing to compromise.
Examples of these boundaries:
I let you know that I would only be staying until Friday morning and to not ask me to stay longer because it makes me feel guilty. I just found out that my office is closed on Monday, so I am able to stay an extra night if that is okay with you.
Depending on how the conversation at dinner goes, I may choose to leave if someone disrespects my religious beliefs.
Identify your support system. It is helpful to have people around you that can help keep you accountable to your boundaries or to lean on if you are feeling overwhelmed. Your support system could include your friends, significant other or spouse, siblings, or parents. You could communicate with your support system that you may need support while you are with family and what that might look like, whether it is a phone call to talk things out if things get heated or joining you for a walk to clear your head.
Have a response ready for resistance. The goal is for everyone to respect your boundaries. Remember this: people don’t need to understand your boundaries to respect them. However, this isn’t always the case. Having responses ready for when you feel your boundaries aren’t being respected can make standing up for yourself easier. Be confident in what you need. You know yourself and your boundaries better than anyone else.
Examples of these responses:
I do not want to talk about this. Thank you for respecting that.
I know that it may be hard for you to understand, but please do not do that again. It makes me uncomfortable.
I appreciate your passion for politics, I am passionate about them too, but I think it is best that we don’t talk about them right now so that we can all enjoy dinner.
Breathe. Setting boundaries with family can be difficult, especially during the holidays. Take time to relax. Spend some time alone while you’re visiting family. This season can be tough, but you can do tough things.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” ― Brené Brown