• How to Set Boundaries this Holiday Season and Beyond

    The holiday season is about togetherness but often togetherness, with certain people, can lead to discomfort and stress. That is why now is perhaps one of the most important times to talk about setting boundaries.

    Setting boundaries with the people you are closest to can be difficult. You might want to remain silent to keep the peace. You might be worried about hurting others. But, if there are people, topics, or situations that routinely impact your level of happiness then you should do something to protect yourself.

    Boundaries do just that. They are there to protect you and your mental and physical health. They are a way for you to honor your feelings and meet your needs. If others are angry about the boundaries you are setting that is ok. This is something you are doing for yourself. Your needs are important and you deserve to respect them.

    Setting healthy boundaries during the holiday season (and beyond) can help to keep your sanity and keep relationships in your life healthy.

    Here are some boundary-setting tips:

    Be Firm, Direct, and Calm

    Be specific and firm in what you are and are not willing to tolerate. What is ok and what is not ok. Being passive-aggressive or dropping hints without specifying things is likely not going to achieve much. Difficult family members are often careless and are likely to not even notice your hints, or not care.

    Speak calmly and with kindness and respect. I know this can be easier said than done. But reacting with anger is only going to lead to defensiveness and rile everyone up. 

    Be Realistic

    Think about your needs and boundaries realistically. For example, don’t seek out or put yourself in situations where you will be harmed. If you are invited to an ex’s family’s home for the holidays you can’t expect them to not talk about your ex. If your uncle always gets intoxicated near the end of the night and starts arguments with family members, make a plan to leave after dinner. If you suspect a situation is going to cause harm then turn down the invite. That is you setting a healthy boundary.

    Be Willing to Walk

    People often forget that if a situation is making you uncomfortable, if you are in the presence of toxic people, you can walk away. It is ok to leave the situation. Hang up the phone. Walk out of the room. You don’t have to explain yourself and you don’t have to apologize.

    Spend Time With Those Who Value You

    Find the people in your life who treat you with respect, who value you, who make you feel good and equal. Spend time with those people. They will help you to set boundaries. You deserve to be valued and respected. Your needs are important.

    Remember, You Are In Charge of You

    How you react in a situation is ultimately your choice. If you have a family member who keeps belittling you or making derogatory comments you can choose to ignore it or to walk away. You choose if you speak up and say “that crosses the line” or “I would prefer we didn’t talk about this.” The choice is yours.

    Holiday Prep

    If you are nervous about attending a family event but are still choosing to go, there are a few things you can do to prepare.

    You can reach out to trusted—those who value you—family members ahead of time and express your feelings and concerns. This will hopefully give you another person who has your back during the event, so you won’t feel like you are tackling this uncomfortable situation on your own.

    It may also be helpful to rehearse some responses to difficult topics, so you are prepared. You can say things like “I prefer we talk about that another time” or “Let’s keep politics out of this event,” and so on. You can make a list of questions or topics you can bring up if conversations require a change. Have an exit plan and always give yourself permission to leave early.

    Whatever you do, make sure you take care of yourself and honor your needs. Don’t ignore your feelings. That will only lead to resentment of others.

    If you struggle with setting boundaries, we are here and we want to help. Our counselors and therapists regularly work with clients on setting boundaries so they can take care of their mental health.

    Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?

    Counselors at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained and licensed. We have openings for online, or telehealth, therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call at (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.