Family dynamics can be…..complicated. And when the pressure of the holiday season is added on top of that, it can be a lot for anyone to manage. Whether you are really lucky like myself and have a really wonderful, close relationship with your family or you have to grit your teeth and tolerate them for a few hours a couple of times a year, holiday get-togethers have a way of being stressful, chaotic, overwhelming and sometimes straight-up uncomfortable for a lot of people—but I’m here to share some of the ways to make them less so.
I’ve learned over the years that setting boundaries isn’t always about keeping people or things that don’t serve me at arm’s length; they can also be created to protect my peace, safeguard my feelings, and create spaces where I can stand firm in my beliefs. And while there may never be an easy way (or a right way) to set healthy boundaries, I’m sharing some helpful tips that you can use this holiday season with your family:
1. Identify your needs
When you imagine getting together with your family, what immediately comes to mind? Do you start to feel stressed out about being around a certain person or uneasy about certain questions you might be asked? Jot down the feelings you are having in a journal or notebook, identify any red flags you anticipate popping up, and come up with some creative ideas for how those situations could be improved. This will help you identify where your needs are and how they can be met by implementing certain boundaries. For example, if you are like me and get overly stressed about having multiple family get togethers on your calendar, maybe you decide to only pick the ones that you absolutely know you can handle while maintaining your peace.
2. Prepare for pushback
Unfortunately, not everyone will understand your boundaries all the time or even understand why you need them in the first place…..so don’t be surprised if you get some pushback. But know that when people resist your boundaries, it’s 100% confirmation that boundaries are needed. Pushback can show up in different forms: ignoring your boundary altogether, trying to guilt you into changing your mind, telling you you’re acting unreasonable, and more. Stand steadfast and don’t let any of these deter you. Instead, remember your needs and why they are important to you, and remind yourself of what you will or will not tolerate this holiday season.
3. Clearly communicate your boundaries
When you talk to your family about boundaries, be clear and specific; this is not the time to be wishy washy. For example, if you don’t want to talk to your Grandma about your (lack of) love life, tell her directly that discussing your dating life is off-limits at Thanksgiving and not something she should be concerned at this point in time. By doing this, your boundaries are black and white, and this makes it easier for other people to respect them (especially Grandma)—even if they don’t understand them. Remember that you absolutely have the right to set boundaries, so communicate your needs clearly and don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.
4. Consistency is key
If you want your family to respect your boundaries, you need to make sure that you are actually respecting your own boundaries too. No wishy washy behavior. By breaking promises to yourself every now and then, you are setting the example that it is OK if others aren’t making them a priority either. And unfortunately, when others see even you aren’t protecting your own boundaries, they aren’t going to take them seriously either. Don’t fold under pressure and show up when you said you couldn’t, leave when you say you’re going to, don’t talk about things you said you didn’t want to, and don’t engage with people you said you weren’t going to. Hold not only others accountable, but yourself too–this keeps your boundaries clearly established.
5. Remove yourself from the situation if needed
I hope that you don’t ever have to do this, but unfortunately I had to do this recently with a family member–if you set clear boundaries and they are violated, leave. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself–from the situation and ultimately the person if they continue to cross the boundary and act inappropriately. I know this is easier said than done—especially with family members during the holidays—but I’m a big believer that boundaries are the most important form of self-care. If you need to leave a conversation, a party, or an event altogether for the sake of your emotional and mental well-being because you feel like no one is taking your needs seriously, so be it. Removing yourself from their presence will keep you from feeling even more uncomfortable and it will show that you won’t tolerate others who don’t respect you or your needs.