The holiday season has arrived! Tis the season for cookie baking, latkes making, and binging cheesy Hallmark movies. It’s the season of giving, joy, and for many…anxiety. While the holidays are intended to bring warmth and cheer, they often leave us feeling emotionally drained. Maybe this is your first holiday season newly single, or as a new parent, or after losing your job. Familial expectations during this season often conflict with the independent and autonomous people we are the other 51 weeks of the year. So how do you set boundaries?
Setting boundaries is challenging but not impossible. Reflect on years past when you returned home for the holidays and were met with criticism, demandingness, invasive questions, or guilt tripping. Did you leave feeling burnt out? Uncomfortable? Hurt? Taken for granted? Resentful? Boundaries act to support you in living out your values, protecting your inner peace, and meeting your own needs. For most, this is great in theory and much more difficult in action.
When it comes to family, setting boundaries is increasingly anxiety producing. Parents, siblings, grandparents, and in-laws alike have both spoken and unspoken expectations during the holidays. Choosing to challenge their expectations and your sense of obligation is key to boundary setting. A life without boundaries is a life where others feel entitled to your time, energy, emotions, space, and even your identity. Choosing to not set boundaries can be choosing to sacrifice your innermost needs. Your needs matter.
Let’s brainstorm about boundaries! What hard and fast beliefs do you hold about family, tradition, the holidays etc.? Here are a few ideas: it’s not okay to spend the holidays with my partner or friend/I have no choice but to spend the holidays at home, I should learn to “deal with” their hurtful comments, I can’t say no or change my mind, I must do everything myself and no one offers to help.
Now think about what you gain by holding this belief. What do you lose? What do others gain? By considering how others benefit from your lack of boundaries, you can begin to identify where boundaries are needed most. Begin by stating the opposite of your belief. It’s okay to not go home for the holidays, hurtful comments are unacceptable, it is okay to say no and change my mind, asking for help is not asking for too much.
When you begin to accept that your boundaries are important and reasonable, it is easier to establish them. As you prepare to set boundaries with family, keep in mind or repeat to yourself these key principles:
- Being honest is not being unkind: It is not mean to set a boundary or advocate for your own needs.
- You are responsible for your boundaries, but not others’ emotions: Your loved ones are prone to react to boundary setting, this is not because you are in being hurtful or mean, but likely because they have benefited from your lack of boundaries in the past.
- This is an on-going learning process: Your loved ones may need ongoing reminders of your boundaries. It is your responsibility to uphold, edit, and communicate your boundaries. Everyone is learning here.
- Setting boundaries IS an act of love: While boundaries may feel harsh and hurtful, they ultimately allow you to be more present, less resentful, build healthier relationships, and enjoy the time you choose to spend with loved ones.
Here is some language to support you in communicating your boundaries:
I feel__________, when you/this situation__________, because ___________. I need____________. I will_______.
Example: I feel hurt and unsupported when you make comments about my parenting, because I’m trying my best and am confident in the decisions I’m making. I need you to stop making comments like _____. If you continue to do so, we will ______(fill in the blank with your appropriate boundary).
Example: I feel overwhelmed by the busy schedule of festivities and family-time when I’m home for the holidays. I also feel guilty when you make comments like “well you’re only here for three days”. I am used to having a lot more alone time to recharge. I need to take breaks and choose which events I will or won’t attend based on my energy. I will communicate with you in advanced if I decide not to go to something. There might be times when I make a last-minute decision and that’s okay too.
Here are some other simple phrases to use to support you in boundary setting:
“I can’t do that, but I can help you find someone who can”
“I appreciate the gesture, but in the future, I’d prefer”
“I can’t take on additional responsibilities right now”
“I’m uncomfortable/hurt with what you just said/did”
“I can’t do ____, but I’m open to trying ____”
“I’m allowed to change my mind”
“I trust that this is the right decision for me right now”
“My pronouns are ____.”
“If you continue to ____, I’m going to end this conversation”
“No thank you”
So you’ve set your boundaries. But what if they don’t like it? They probably won’t. Boundaries often activate someone’s deepest worries and insecurities. This is not your fault. Your family members may become angry or upset, need time to adjust, or even attempt to change your mind (beware of guilt trips). Approach these conversations with realistic expectations of how others may react. It can be helpful to acknowledge that the boundary is difficult to hear or offer alternatives to the behavior or situation you are setting your boundary around. Here’s a few ideas:
“I’ve decided to stay at a hotel while I’m in town this year. What’s the schedule look like this week, I want to carve out time to spend together”
“It’s really important to me that I meet my need for alone time. That said, it’s really important we have time together as well. Can we work to find a balance?”
As you embark on this journey of boundary setting, remember to extend yourself kindness and grace above all else. This is difficult and courageous – your willingness to set boundaries is providing you with an opportunity to spend this holiday season feeling more balanced, loved, respected, and rested.
Hi, I’m Madison Hamzy, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.
You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.
You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Madison