How to Set Boundaries during the Holidays
How often do you hear the phrase “get through the holidays” during the months of November and December? “If I can just get through the holidays, then I think things will calm down…” “I’m trying to get through the holidays in one piece!” “I’ve got so many things on my plate right now; all I can focus on is just getting through the holidays.”
When did the holidays become something we have to “get through,” like a bout of the flu, a double shift, or a marathon, rather than something we get to enjoy? The problem comes when you’re so focused on giving to others – giving of your time, your energy, or your money – that you have nothing left for yourself and get burnt out. A burnt out version of you is not going to be able to give the kind of love and attention that you want to spread to your friends and family in the holiday season. So what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen?
Set. Better. Boundaries! Remember: because of the demands that come along with the holiday season, it’s actually the best time of year to make your boundaries stronger, not to let them down or decide to hold off on them for “later.”
1. Don’t totally abandon your routines.
This is a form of setting a boundary with yourself. The holidays are a tempting time to totally abandon routines. You might think to yourself something like, “It’ll be too hard to keep up with meditation every morning the week my parents are here. I’ll just pick it back up after they leave.” It’s normal to want to ignore routines when circumstances make them harder to keep, but try to get creative. Wake up 15 minutes before your parents so you can sneak meditation in before they want to chat. Although you may not be able to stick to your routines totally over the holidays, if you can stay in the mindset of at least making an effort then it’ll be easier to go back to them when the holidays are over.
2. Before you say “yes” to something, ask yourself how meaningful it is.
Do you have a tradition of making elaborate handmade crafts for your child to hand out to their classmates … and that craft is going to eat up an obscene amount of your time this holiday season? Don’t just think, “I do this every year; I have to!” Before saying “yes” to any obligation over the holidays, ask yourself, “Am I doing this because it will bring someone real joy or am I doing this because I think it will make me look good/perfect?”
3. Don’t let guilt drive your decisions.
Would it make your life easier logistically and financially to just go to your wife’s family’s house this year for the holidays rather than her family’s and yours, but you’re dreading what your mother might say about such a plan? We’ve all been there, but here’s the thing: your mother will get over it. Maybe she will be upset at first, and maybe you will have to have an unpleasant conversation about it, but if she loves you enough to really want to see you, then she’ll also love you enough to understand you can’t make everyone happy all the time.
4. Remember that financial boundaries are important, too.
If you’re not in a financial position to get all of the people on your list large, lavish gifts, then it is perfectly fair for you to set some financial boundaries. You could ask your family if they would be open to doing a Secret Santa gift exchange, or with just buying gifts for the children in the family. You could request that everyone stick to a certain dollar amount (no gifts over $20, for instance). You could even suggest a holiday season of going totally gift-less and just appreciating each other’s company, which is what everyone always says the season is all about anyway!
5. Plan out verbal boundaries you’ll set with family members.
Usually, you know ahead of time when a family member is going to say something that crosses a line because they have a history of doing so. Maybe your dad always criticizes your weight, or your cousin always acts like your job is a joke. If you anticipate something like this, plan out ahead of time what you’ll say. For instance, you might say something like, “I know you might think you’re making a joke, but that makes me really uncomfortable. Let’s change the subject so that we can all keep enjoying each other’s company.”
6. Stick to language that’s free of shaming and blaming when you set verbal boundaries.
Shawn M. Burn, Ph.D., gives great advice about how to do this and even offers lots of specific examples of how you might use calm, respectful language when you want to make sure your boundaries are clear. The idea is to stand up for yourself, but in a way that’s going to shut down the boundary-crossing comments, not stir up anger and create a long argument.
You may have the best intentions of being a holiday superstar, but if you don’t take care of yourself then you’re not going to be able to take care of others the way you want to. By setting proper boundaries, you can truly enjoy the holiday season rather than just “get through” it.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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