Setting Boundaries at the Holidays
Updated: Nov 30
By Annabelle Mebane, MA, AMFT
The holidays – despite being known as “the most wonderful time of the year” – can also be a challenging and sometimes painful time of year. For some folks, the holidays mean decisions about whether to spend time with loved ones with whom one has a difficult relationship. For others, they are a reminder of lost loved ones. And for most of us, this is a season where there are many demands on our time and it can be exhausting.
Regardless of the specific challenges you may face during the holiday season, a refresher on boundaries can be helpful for most of us. So here are some reminders that remain true all year long, but may be particularly helpful at this time of year:
1. Boundaries don’t have to be all or nothing.
Sometimes folks get stuck because they believe that a boundary means either you are all in or all out. For example, “either we choose to see those family members or we don’t see them at all.” Though this is one option, boundaries often fall along a continuum. A boundary could involve choosing to completely skip a family gathering. But a boundary could also involve choosing to go to the family gathering, and deciding to leave at a particular time or when the alcohol starts flowing heavily, or removing oneself from the room if a particular conversation topic arises.
2. Boundaries aren’t something you necessarily need to explicitly share or explain to others.
If you find it helpful to share or explain your boundaries with those around you, you certainly can. If sharing your needs helps you connect with the person you are sharing with, and that moves you in your valued direction, by all means let them in on your process. But if you find that when you try to explain your boundaries, those around you poke holes in your reasoning or use this information as a means to try to change your behavior, you can also choose not to explain yourself. Boundaries are something that you are clear about in your own mind, and that you use to help guide decisions in various situations.
3. A boundary can be a request of others, but more importantly a boundary is a response from you.
Even when you do share your boundaries with others, those requests are not always respected or upheld. A boundary can involve asking for what you want or need, but it doesn’t end there. For a boundary to truly be effective, it also involves being clear with yourself on how you will choose to respond if and when that boundary is crossed.
4. Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable.
Boundaries are a way for you to take care of yourself. Part of that process often involves a fair amount of discomfort. Those of us who struggle to set boundaries often struggle due to feelings of guilt or anxiety. When we begin to set boundaries, we are likely to feel an increase in those uncomfortable feelings at first, especially if/when others have feelings about our change in behavior. Uncomfortable feelings are not necessarily a sign that you are doing this wrong. They are part of the process.
If you are struggling with feeling anxious, burnt out, guilty, or overwhelmed this holiday season, and need some support in learning to set workable boundaries to improve your ability to take care of yourself and improve your relationships, therapy can help.