Healthy boundaries are important all year long, but the holiday season can provide extra opportunities for you to flex your boundary muscles. The pressure to spend time with extended family can cause stress because it can sometimes feel like you don’t have a voice. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or disappoint someone, so you can be left feeling stuck, anxious and miserable.
Boundaries are a signal that you care about yourself and they are created to keep you safe versus creating a wall to keep people out. They allow you to live from a place of safety for both your mind and body, and they give permission for others to do the same.
Often you will sense a boundary needs to be set from within your body, before your mind registers it. Your heart may race, palms sweat, and you may feel pressure or tenseness somewhere in your body. This is your body sending a message that you need to do something to help you feel safe.
Here are seven questions to help identify your personal holiday boundaries:
- What do I value most during the holiday season?
- How can I prioritize my commitments first?
- Do I really want to spend time with that individual, or attend that activity?
- How can I express my appreciation to each person without overextending my finances?
- What problems am I taking on that are not really mine?
- What am I tolerating that is zapping my energy?
- How can I honor my needs without guilt?
Boundary setting is not a perfect science and takes practice, especially if you are not accustomed to communicating what it is that you need. But don’t worry, with practice boundaries become easier to set and to keep.
Here are a few examples of what holiday boundary statements can look like:
- “She doesn’t want a hug right now. Maybe a high five?”
- “Our son goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. so we will be missing dessert.”
- “We have decided not to participate in extended family gift giving this year.”
- “We like his haircut and will not tolerate you teasing him about it.”
- “We cannot attend. We are having a small family celebration at our house.”
Boundaries mean that you can give to others more fully because you are taking care of yourself first, and in the present moment. The holidays are the perfect time to practice because when you give, as a person with boundaries, you do so with genuine intention that enriches the life of the receiver.
Olson Marriage & Family Clinic
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2017). Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life (Updated and expanded [edition] ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.