I love the holidays. Each year, I look forward to the first frost, holiday music, and the smell of cinnamon cider mulling in the kitchen.
Even though the holidays can be a joyous time, the season can also be emotionally, physically, and mentally stressful. Nevermind the extra expenses, missed sleep and hectic schedules.
For many of us, the holiday season also means prolonged time spent with family and this brings its own set of challenges, no matter how well you get along. When challenging family dynamics arise, we have a choice. A choice to get sucked into the toxic energy, or a decision to let go and set boundaries around our time, space, and energy.
Establishing Boundaries With Family Members
It’s natural to want to accommodate others. But people-pleasing behaviors coupled with boundary setting can be a challenge. Especially when first establishing boundaries. In the past, my self-worth was tied to sacrifice and selflessness, which made boundary-setting difficult if not impossible.
However, setting boundaries within our family systems presents a unique challenge.
Over the years, we might have thought that putting our own needs first was selfish inconsiderate, or wrong.
For many years, I was too conflicted to set boundaries with family, because I didn’t want to mess with the status quo. I was too nice, too giving. I felt obligated to sacrifice my time, money, space, or energy without limitation.
Boundaries shed light on unspoken familial expectations and free us of the burden of people-pleasing and sacrificing our needs and desires. Clear limits change the way we relate to our family and prioritize our needs. Boundaries are also protective. They protect our emotions, mental health, and physical space. Setting boundaries is necessary to determine our true emotions and needs.
Boundaries communicate respect. After all, they set a stopping point between what belongs to us and others.
As we enter the holiday season where limits are imposed and possibly even crossed: I abide by these four ideas:
1. You are enough. Give precedence to your needs and values. No one else will do this for us. Establishing boundaries is a fearless way to honor and respect ourselves.
2. Truthfulness is paramount. Being honest is a form of kindness, it is not mean spirited. It’s not wrong to stand up for ourselves. In reality, being authentic in our actions with others is an empowering way to say yes to the self and be truthful with others. Respect begets respect.
3. Rethink control. We can only control ourselves. It’s possible to be mindful of our boundaries while being respectful, but we cannot manage the feelings of others. It’s not our responsibility, but we can be kind in our intentions and interactions.
4. Be a clear communicator. This is crucial for conveying needs and expectations. Be very clear and have no regrets about asking for what you need. It’s not mean, its self-kindness and self-preservation. Regardless, no one will know until we lovingly make our needs known. And it isn’t a one time process, as we continually grow and develop, so do our boundaries.
During this holiday season, use boundary setting as a way to feel empowered, peaceful, and happy.
Be kind to yourself with boundaries.
- If your hosting, take a break.
Holiday hosting is hard work. Whether you’re hosting family for one evening or hosting visitors for a week, you are giving your space, energy, and time. It can be stressful for your body and mind, but taking a break may help. This may be taking a nap, reading a book, meditation, or hiring help during hosting events.
Try it out: “I enjoy hosting but usually crash later on. Knowing this about myself, I plan for downtime to watch holiday movies after hosting is done.”
2. Plan for quiet time.
Give yourself alone time during visits. Visiting involves fewer responsibilities than hosting, but as a visitor, you’re out of your normal routine. You’re in a new environment, away from your comfort zone. It’s perfectly fine and healthy, to take time to recharge.
Try it out: “I feel run down by the constant activities and events when I visit for the holidays. I need time alone to rest and recuperate.”
3. Be ok with not going home for the holidays.
Whether you are visiting your spouse’s family, taking a vacation, or are avoiding a toxic environment, it’s not selfish to choose how you spend the holiday.
It’s ok to have different preferences for the holidays or to not celebrate at all.
Talking to family members and friends can help, but if it doesn’t establish a firm boundary about your needs and non-negotiables.
Try it out: “I’ve been working non-stop and this year I need to prioritize my health, I am taking a vacation to rest.
4. It is ok to have different views and values from your family.
Over time, we all change. Traditions may not feel right anymore. There may relational or behavioral stress that has compounded over the years.
It may be that your family criticizes your profession or weight. Part of putting a boundary in place is refusing to accept the comment or behavior. By dealing with these discomforts in an honest and forthright manner, you prioritize your feelings and needs.
Try it out: “When you talk about my weight, it makes me feel invalidated and hurt. I would rather focus on mental and emotional health this year.”
Your friends and family may be against your boundaries. They may wonder what these limits mean for your relationship.
Try to have realistic expectations when presenting boundaries for the first time and prepare yourself for possible resistance. During the conversation, acknowledge that your boundary may be difficult to hear. This will help friends and family to feel heard and involved in the coming seasons.
Along with this process, it helps to make it clear that these boundaries are because I care about the relationship and want to work on solutions that are helpful for both of us. For example: “This year, I will be staying at a hotel when I visit for the holidays. I’d love to set aside some time to spend together. Can we work together to find a balance that works for both of us?
Occasionally, others will be unwilling to listen to your boundaries. Sometimes, it may come down to leaving the environment if it’s become toxic. We cannot change other people. The only thing we can control is our own reaction.
Setting boundaries is challenging at first, but making the fearless decision to withdraw from toxic situations is a radical act of self-care. It is entirely possible to set boundaries while also being loving and compassionate and gracious.
It takes courage to speak up and live life authentically. Setting compassionate boundaries allows us to be simultaneously truthful and kind.