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  • Writer's pictureLisa Hess

Holding Boundaries During the Holidays

“I’m overwhelmed”

“I have so many things to do.”

“I wish I didn’t have to go to Mom’s for her holiday party.”

“Cousin Bob is an exhausting moron.”

“Tis the season for getting together with family and friends. But sometimes we find ourselves feeling obligated to attend events we don’t feel very merry about. If you’ve ever felt this way let this be your guide for setting boundaries, no matter the season.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are our physical and emotional limits in relationships. They can also be financial or spiritual. When we extend ourselves beyond our boundaries, we can end up feeling tired, uncomfortable, avoidant or angry.

Differences in boundaries can come from differences in expectations across generations, cultures, religious denominations or experiences. Boundaries are *extremely personal*. NO ONE is allowed to tell you that your boundary is not allowed. I mean, they can try, but it’s not up to them to set your boundaries. It’s only up to you. *high five*

1. Identify the Boundary that you would like to set with someone and ask yourself: “What is stopping me from setting this boundary? Generally there are 5 things that stop us from speaking up for ourselves:

  • Fear: You're scared of how things might turn out, or you've never voiced your boundary before.

  • Relationship history/dynamics: Past experiences with someone may have been, let's say, less than cheerful, making you hesitate to set boundaries.

  • Discomfort: The thought of a conversation getting awkward makes you cringe hard.

  • Making someone else unhappy:You're afraid that Grandma will be upset if you decline her invitation and you would feel worse. You think maybe you should just suck it up to avoid other people feeling upset.

  • Safety: In some cases, speaking up might put your emotional or physical safety at risk.

2. Communicate Your Boundary

  • Many of us have the impression that we have to speak up! Set limits! Be more assertive! However, sometimes saying nothing is the best boundary. Sometimes silence *is* the boundary.

  • If someone has shown us that they are not a safe person (that can mean physically safe or emotionally safe) to communicate with, it is okay to only share parts of your life with that person. No one is entitled to your whole self. You get to decide what parts you share and with whom.

  • Be clear: Here are some examples of clear communication. Each example gets progressively more direct and assertive. Choose a level that feels right to you.

    • “This is how I feel about X. I understand this is a change and it might make you feel uncomfortable or disappointed. I’d like to talk it through with you so we can understand each other better.”

    • “This is what I prefer. If you’d like to talk more about it so you can understand where I’m coming from, I’m okay with that. But I won’t be changing my position.”

    • “This is what we’ve decided for our family. It’s non-negotiable if you want to continue seeing me during the holidays.”

    • “I’m asking you to stop or I will leave.”

3. Plan Ahead:

  • What is the outcome I am hoping for? Are you hoping the other person will change? Are you hoping to start an open line of communication? Are you hoping they’ll see it your way from now on? How do you want to handle things if it doesn’t go the way you hope?

  • Be realistic about the outcome: Aunt Karen might continue to ask about your single status every time you see her even if you tell her, “Aunt Karen, please don’t ask me if I’m still single when we get together. I’d much rather talk about other things in my life.”

  • Always have an exit strategy: Think ahead of time about how long you want to spend at the event and plan your arrival and departure time accordingly. If things go south unexpectedly and you want to leave, have a plan to exit:

    • “I’ve repeatedly asked you to respect my feelings on X. It doesn’t look like we’re going to work that out tonight. I think it’s best that I leave and we can discuss it another time.”

    • “I have another party to get to!”

    • “The sitter is expecting us to be home by 10:00.”

    • “My squirrel is sick and I need to take her to the vet immediately.”

So there you have it, your crash course on setting boundaries for the holiday season. Keep in mind, even people who love us and want the best for us will try to poke holes in our boundaries (sometimes intentionally to test them, sometimes unintentionally). They’re used to us behaving or responding in a certain way and it makes sense they would still hold that expectation. Change takes time and you may have to remind a loved one of a boundary you’ve set in the past.


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