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Healthy Boundaries & Relationships during the Holidays

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

For many people the holiday season can be seen as the "most wonderful time of the year". It can be a time for celebration, religious reflections, connecting with family and friends, and fostering relationships over food and often over gifts. We get festive with our home decorations, determined with gift giving/exchanges, and participate in several holiday activities to spread holiday cheer. However, for others it can be an excruciating difficult time due to strained relationships with others, past trauma history, disrespected boundaries, grief/loss, and other reasons. Either way, it is possible to cultivate joy during the holiday season through increasing your healthy boundaries and relationships with others.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. They are such a beautiful thing and often get a bad rap. However, boundaries are not a “bad” thing at all. It is not a sign or behavior of being selfish or disrespectful, despite what others may think. Actually, it is quite the opposite. Healthy boundaries and setting boundaries with others is a very powerful, liberating act of self-care and self-love. We have to stop making excuses for others because “it’s the holidays”. Toxic people are toxic 24/7, 365, even on holidays. Boundaries are the only way to navigate the holiday season while protecting your peace and energy as best as possible.

Boundaries are not a “luxury”. They are indeed a requirement. You deserve boundaries. Setting limits can help set you free from so much stress in your relationships. Without boundaries you make yourself available and vulnerable to others, which often does not end well. Instead, you want to practice setting boundaries NOW and revisiting them as needed. Becoming a “boundary badass” can help not only you, but others around you as well. We have to release the fear of people-pleasing and instead speak up and advocate for yourself.

With the holiday season upon us, many people may feel obligated to do things a certain way, feel or act a certain way, etc. because of family or cultural traditions. It is important to know that things can change and that you have every right to change them as you see fit.

Here are a few simple steps to help facilitate healthy boundaries with others during the upcoming holiday season:

You may read these and think: Wow, this would be hard. Do people actually do this (implement boundaries)? Can I really say “no” to coming to the family gathering? Will I hurt their feelings?

All of these thoughts are valid and very understandable. Boundaries are not easy and can often be intimidating, but they ARE doable. The other reality is that you deserve a happy and healthy holiday season this year. I hope you can communicate your needs and boundaries clearly with others so that you can receive as well as give this year!

In order to achieve that, let’s take a closer look into some of the boundaries mentioned above:

· Say “no”. This is a hard stop. More importantly, say “no” without guilt or even an explanation. “No” is a complete sentence and has the same translation in every language for a reason. If this is new to you, I would encourage you to practice saying “no”. It can seem abrupt at first, but sometimes a simple “no” is all that is needed at times.

· Make it clear. I’m talking about crystal-clear. When setting boundaries it is important to remove the “maybes” or “possibly” out of the sentence. Be clear and upfront so that there is no confusion of areas of “gray” that can confuse the other person about your boundary. For example, instead of saying something like, “I may not have time to swing by your home with the other stops planned,” you would want to say something such as, “I’m not going to be able to swing by this year”. You don’t want to leave room for negotiations or misinterpretations. Remember, crystal clear.

· Complete frequent check-ins with yourself to assess your feelings, comfort level, etc. Ask yourself some of these questions to gauge your distress level: How do I feel in this space, spending x amount of time with x amount of people? Can I really fulfill the request of “x”? Does this feel comfortable or safe to me? Is my body showing any physiological signs of distress (increased heart rate, sweating, tightness of muscles, headaches, etc)? Depending on your answer to these questions, it can help gauge if it is time to leave the event and/or express your needs.

· Express your needs. Say how you feel in an assertive yet respectful manner. That cousin who makes an uncomfortable joke about a sensitive topic- Call. Them. Out. Don’t dismiss the comment nor your feelings. Speak up and let them know how you feel. For example, “Hey cousin, I feel (insert feeling/emotion such as uncomfortable, uneasy, disrespected, etc.) when you (what is it they did to trigger this emotion) and I need you (let them know what you need).” A real life example could be something like this: "Hey cousin, I feel uncomfortable and disrespected when you make a joke about someone’s sexual orientation and I need you to be more respectful of people that are different from you."

If the holidays are a stressful time of the year for you, we are here. We hope these tips and tricks will help establish and implement healthy boundaries with others this holiday season and moving forward. Please remember this holiday season that you are not alone. We have a team of therapists that are here are ready to help you navigate this holiday season. Give us a call today to set up an appointment at 901-232-1956.

This blog was written and images were created by one of our therapists, Heather Thomasson, LPC/MHSP.

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