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  • Writer's pictureSkye White

Setting Boundaries During the Holidays




The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. However, the holidays can also cause stress and worry. A common source of stress and worry can be family and the boundary violations that come with spending more time with them.

What is a boundary violation?

We can think of boundaries as rules of engagement for how we expect others to interact with us and what we will tolerate. A boundary violation is when someone interacts with us in a way that goes against how we expect and want to be treated. For example, a boundary might be that you do not want your sister to come by your house unannounced. If she does that anyway, even after you have voiced this to her, that is a boundary violation.

How do we set boundaries?

First we have to identify our own rules of engagement. How do you want to be treated? What questions do you feel comfortable answering or not answering? How much time do you want to spend with your family versus alone? What are things you don’t want to eat or drink?

We must also keep in mind that we cannot control what other people do, but we can control whether we choose to continue to engage. For example, if we say, “Do not serve meat at dinner,” we are attempting to control the actions of others. Whereas a boundary might be, “If you serve meat, I will not eat it” or “If you plan to serve meat at dinner, I will bring my own food to eat.”

Next we have to voice our boundaries. We can’t expect others to read our minds. If we want our boundaries to be respected, we must say them. This can be difficult to do. One tool to help us in voicing our boundaries is deciding on them ahead of time, practicing the wording we want to use, and rehearsing before we have to set them.

For example, let’s say that you are uncomfortable with invasive questions that your family asks. Start by identifying what questions you are not comfortable answering. This might include questions about your romantic or dating life, questions about marriage or whether you plan to have children, questions about your weight or body, or any other questions you’re uncomfortable answering. What you’re comfortable with will be different for everyone, and that is okay! There is no right or wrong.

Once you have identified what boundaries you want to set, think about a way that you would feel comfortable voicing your boundary. In this example, we’re thinking of the questions you don’t want to answer. Some sample phrasing could be: “Please do not ask me about my body. If you ask about my body, I will not answer,” or “I’m not comfortable answering questions about my dating life.” The most important aspect is that you are clear in your communication.

After trying on some phrases, practice rehearsing them either in your head or out loud. The more you practice, the easier it will be to verbalize them when the time comes.

Boundary setting troubleshooting

Feeling guilty

A common consequence of setting boundaries is guilt, especially when we aren’t used to setting boundaries. Unfortunately, we cannot completely avoid a feeling of guilt when setting a boundary. This practice isn’t about avoiding guilt, but rather about protecting ourselves and our peace. The discomfort of guilt pales in comparison to the discomfort of consistently doing things that you do not want to do. This usually ultimately results in feelings of resentment towards your loved ones.

Maintaining boundaries

Just because we set a boundary once does not mean that others will respect it in the future. Consistent messaging is key here. If you do not want to be asked about your body, set the boundary every time that you will not answer any questions about your body. You also might consider following your own boundary as well and not treat others how you do not want to be treated.

Setting boundaries can be difficult and sometimes activating. If you’re finding that you could use additional support in setting boundaries or in managing how you feel after setting a boundary, therapy is an excellent place to process these feelings and gain skills. Feel free to reach out and make an appointment.

References:

Glover Tawwab, N (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace. Penguin Publishing Group.

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