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Maintaining Healthy Boundaries During the Holiday Season

For many, if not all of us, we both look forward to and dread the holidays.  They are both a lovely and much-needed break from our stressful, overwhelming, and exhausting routines at work and in life in general, as well as an anxiety-inducing whirlwind of social interactions with a myriad of family members (with all sorts of unique personalities, needs, and demands) and immense responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. 

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In this blog, we will cover realistic ways to make the most of the holidays as we dive into how to set healthy boundaries.

When we set healthy and realistic boundaries (or limits) for ourselves and others, we put ourselves in the best position to survive, if not thrive, during the holidays.  When we do so, we are essentially communicating to ourselves and others that we value ourselves, including our time, energy, and other resources, and realize we only have a finite amount of each of these.  And, as such, we know, and are letting ourselves and others know, that we must be deliberate and tactical with how we expend those resources.

Some examples of reasonable holiday boundaries:

  • Limiting alcohol intake,
  • Designing and adhering to a budget,
  • Staying disciplined to avoid any kind of work,
  • Clearly and consistently expressing your needs and expectations to yourself and others,
  • Disciplining yourself to only say yes to things that really make sense for you and holding yourself accountable for saying no when it’s correct to do so

You may have some understandable fears and concerns about setting and sustaining boundaries.  For example, perhaps you worry that setting boundaries with certain family members will lead to conflict, resentment, and strained relationships.  While it is possible that setting healthy boundaries could feel initially uncomfortable and lead to temporary problems, the longer-term benefits almost always outweigh these potential cons.

By working up the courage to rock the boat and set these boundaries, you are likely to foster relationships with clearer communication, less miscommunication, improved trust, enhanced respect, and an overall strengthened connection.  It’s also important to realize that when you do so, you are modeling for others the kind of courage and importance of setting healthy boundaries, thereby improving the likelihood that they follow in your lead and therefore treat themselves and others in better ways.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Others

When we set boundaries, it is best to follow a couple of core principles and skills.  We have two options when it comes to setting boundaries with others: the gentle start-up or phrasing things in terms of positive and future requests (as opposed to past and negative criticisms).

The gentle start-up involves bringing things up through the following formula:

I feel ______ about/when _____ (situation) and here is what I need from you or us _______.

So, for instance, you might say:

I feel irritated when I am trying to have a relaxing time with my family and there’s too much talk about politics.  What I need from us is to avoid politics altogether or to limit it to 15-20 minutes on our weekend together.

If you use the alternative option (phrasing things in terms of positive and future requests), you could say:

It would mean so much to me if, during this holiday weekend, especially since we so rarely have time together, we could capitalize on it in the best possible way by keeping politics out of things and almost exclusively talking to each other about how much we all love and miss each other.

When we use 1 or both options for setting boundaries, we put ourselves in the best position to have the person on the receiving end hear, understand, and give us what we are looking for from him/her.

Alternatively, when we use controlling, harsh, critical, past-focused, and negative language and statements, we are much more likely to contribute to the other person becoming defensive, shut down, and closed off to providing us with what we need.

An additional principle to concentrate on when setting and sustaining boundaries is to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot.

You can control how clearly, kindly, and firmly you present your request for a healthy boundary.  You cannot, however, control whether the person on the receiving end will properly hear, understand, respect, and respond to it in the most ideal way.  At the end of the day, that is up to him/her.  So, focus on doing what you can, and then work to be as understanding, accepting, and even embracing, of whatever ends up being the final result.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Yourself

When we grow up, we always endure some amount of trauma.  Perhaps you were bullied or you felt you lacked intelligence because a learning disability made it so hard to succeed in your classwork.  Whatever your trauma(s), you unconsciously adapted to them in the best ways you could.  One such adaptation involves boundaries.

When we are young, we tend to gravitate strongly towards one end or the other in terms of boundaries.  We develop boundaries that are too porous (we feel so many emotions and so intensely, feel so strongly for others, and often let others’ lives take priority over our own).  Or, we develop boundaries that are too hardened and walled off (we tend to shut our emotions off, try to avoid feeling, try to hide when others around us are feeling, and care largely about ourselves at the detriment of others).

Take a moment to consider where you tend to fall on this spectrum of responses.  In particular, consider how you most commonly respond especially in times of intense negative emotions.

Once you identify your most common, blueprint response in terms of boundaries, you will know where you will need to improve.  The goal, when it comes to healthy boundaries, is to practice moving to a centered position on a more consistent basis, as well as accurately determining and landing on a more or less boundaried place depending on the particular circumstances.

Specifically, what you will want to do is take several deep breaths in and out from your belly (where we are able to get the most oxygen into our lungs) and, as you do, imagine bringing yourself to a more centered place as far as boundaries.  When appropriate, do the same exercise, but imagine erecting a firm wall (or whatever metaphor works for you) to create a boundary if needed in any particular moment.  Or, if reasonable, practice the same exercise, but this time imagine the wall coming down (at least to some degree).

One question that can help in this practice is asking yourself: is this information about me or about another person? 

If it’s about you, lower the wall, and take it in.  If it’s about the other person, raise up your wall, and imagine the information hitting the wall and falling to the ground or bouncing off the wall and returning to the person.

For example, if a family member says something hurtful to you that simply isn’t true, this is about him/how, and you can practice setting this boundary in your mind to deny their unhealthy information from getting through to you.  If, alternatively, a family member gently and kindly shares with you information about how s/he would love it if you could be more engaged with him/her in conversation, and you feel there could be truth to this information, you could practice lowering the wall and embracing this feedback.

Develop a Better Understanding of Boundaries and Boundary-Setting-and-Sustaining Skills Through Individual Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida

The holidays should be an enjoyable time.  It’s a time to disconnect from daily stressors, including the constant grind of work, and soak in time to connect with loved ones.  Of course, this is easier said than done with all the stressors that present themselves during this time.  At Stress Solutions, we love teaching you about the importance of healthy boundaries to set for yourself and others, as well as the skills to successfully achieve this.  You deserve to capitalize on your holidays and we love helping people like yourself to be able to do just that! Our team of caring therapists would be happy to offer support for creating healthier boundaries.

To learn more about boundaries, including the skills and concepts to make them a part of your holiday routine, schedule a consultation with an individual therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida today.

Other Services Offered with Stress Solutions

Our San Diego, CA-based practice offers a variety of services individual therapy services to support you and your mental health. Other services offered include therapy for stressanxietytraumaEMDR, and overcoming addictions. We are also happy to provide support for couples via in-person and online therapy. Visit our blog or learn more about us for more helpful info today!

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