The Importance of Setting Boundaries During the Holidays
Here we are, at the end of another year. The holiday season is both a time of excitement and a stressful point in the lives of many. There is an increase in the time spent with family and friends, which can be something we look forward to or something we dread. The holidays should be enjoyable for everyone, but we all have different ways of finding that joy. For some, joy is found in rest and time away from the rush of the season. It’s important to recognize your needs during this time and set boundaries to protect and prioritize your peace.
Why is Boundary Setting so Important?
When we are close to family and friends, we tend to go above and beyond for their happiness. We make commitments to see them when our time is limited, we tolerate proximity with toxic family members for the good of everyone, or we find ourselves stretched then with finances for the sake of putting smiles on the faces of others. This drive to please others is borne out of love, but usually does little to replenish us (ever heard of “pouring from an empty cup”?). When you first set boundaries with your loved ones, it can feel out of character or isolating. But here are some of the important things that change when you set a boundary for yourself:
- Increase in self-esteem and self-advocacy
- Increased focus on your own health and well-being
- Improved communication with family as they gain understanding of your needs
- Decreased time with those who are draining or disrespectful
- Stress reduction and improved coping with necessary life tasks, such as going to work and completing chores
While others may feel slighted or offended when you set boundaries, it indicates to them that you are in a place where you need to take better care of yourself. This not only improves their understanding of you, but it also improves your empathy for others. When you set boundaries with those who are understanding, you can see an increase in support and ease of communication. When you set boundaries with those who are not, you will still benefit from the distance you put between yourself and that individual.
How Do I Set a Boundary?
Be clear and direct. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t commit to something. State plainly what you can’t or won’t do, and do not apologize. Try using statements such as “I need a break and won’t be able to make it” or “I can’t commit to that right now”. While it might sting a bit for the person on the receiving end, direct communication is clear for both parties and won’t leave a lingering expectation that you’ll change your mind.
Don’t assume people can read your mind. When we adopt a passive communication style, we often fall victim to the belief that other people can read our minds through our body language or lack of direct communication. This rarely works. Again, we sometimes beat around the bush to lessen the blow for other people. Trust that those around you can handle your truths and let them know how you feel or what you need.
Scale back from the amount of responsibilities you take on. Hosting parties, visiting family, cooking…sometimes the holidays can feel like a second job! Only take on responsibilities that will be fulfilling or fun for you, and delegate other tasks to other family members. If hosting is stressful for you, let people know and ask that someone else host this year. If you don’t have time to prepare your usual dish, don’t add to your growing to-do list by offering to make it. Cut back and let someone else carry the load!
Set firm boundaries for “off-limit” conversations. This time of year brings with it an increase in questions about what’s going on in your life. From your weight to your love life to your career, family and friends may have questions about what you’re up to. Be direct in addressing “off-limit” topics. This can sound like using the following statements – “I’d rather not talk about that today”, “let’s focus on something else”, and “I’m not comfortable discussing that with you”. If someone persists in discussing an uncomfortable topic, then proceed to the next step….
Walk away. In addition to dealing with personally sensitive conversations, we also face an increase in conversations regarding local or global news. We live in a very divisive time, where current events and politics can lead to major conflict at home. It’s okay to check out of a tense conversation during the holidays (and any time after the holidays). Excuse yourself and take a walk, start a conversation with a different family member, or run to the store for something you need.
Not everyone will be ready to receive boundaries. For some, boundary setting can feel like an effort to isolate yourself from loved ones or just you being “difficult”. Remember, when we set boundaries, we do so from a place of self-care, not a desire to hurt others. When you set boundaries this holiday season, you are doing so to take care of your own needs. The people who love you will understand, even if it takes a while. Don’t pour from an empty cup!
This blog was written by Imani Crawford, LCSWA