Family dynamics are… well, they’re tough. And when the pressure of the holidays is added on top of that, it can be a lot for anyone to manage. Whether you have a really wonderful, close relationship with your family or you tolerate them for a few hours a couple of times a year, holiday get-togethers have a way of being stressful, chaotic, and sometimes straight-up uncomfortable for a lot of people—but they don’t have to be.
I’ve learned over the years that setting boundaries isn’t always about keeping people or things that don’t serve us at arm’s length; they can also be created to protect our peace, safeguard our feelings, and stand firm in our beliefs. And while there may never be an easy way (or a right way) to set healthy boundaries, we’re sharing some tips that you can implement this holiday season with your family:
1. Identify your needs
When you think about getting together with your family, what comes to mind? Do you start to feel anxious about being around a certain person or nervous about questions you might be asked? Write down the feelings you are having, identify any triggers you anticipate, and come up with some ideas for how those situations could be better. This will help you identify where your needs are and how they can be met by implementing certain boundaries. For example, if you are already feeling stressed about having multiple family parties on your calendar, maybe you decide to only go to the ones that fit into your schedule to value yourself and your time.
2. Prepare for pushback
Unfortunately, not everyone will understand your boundaries or why you need them in the first place, so pushback isn’t uncommon. But know that when people resist your boundaries, it’s confirmation that boundaries are needed. Pushback can come in different forms: ignoring you altogether, guilting you into changing your mind, telling you you’re unreasonable, and so on. Don’t let any of these deter you. Instead, remember your needs and why they are important to you, and stand firm in what you will or will not tolerate.
3. Clearly communicate your boundaries
When you talk to your family about boundaries, be clear and specific; this is not the time to beat around the bush. For example, if you don’t want to talk to your parents about your love life, tell them directly that discussing your dating life is off-limits and not something they should be concerned with right now. By doing this, your boundaries are black and white, and this makes it easier for other people to respect them—even if they don’t understand them. Remember that you have the right to set boundaries, so communicate your needs clearly and don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.
4. Make sure you are consistent
If you want your family to respect your boundaries, you need to make sure that you are respecting your own boundaries too. By letting them slide 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 that you aren’t strict with your own boundaries, they aren’t going to take them very seriously either. So say no when you mean it, leave when you say you’re going to, don’t talk about things you said you didn’t want to, and so on. Hold yourself and others accountable, so your boundaries remain clearly established.
5. Excuse yourself if needed
We hope that you don’t ever have to do this, but if you set clear boundaries and they are violated, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself. This is easier said than done—especially with family members during the holidays—but boundaries are a form of self-care. If you need to leave a conversation 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. Distancing yourself will keep you from feeling even more uncomfortable and it will show that you won’t tolerate others who don’t respect your needs.