Maintaining Boundaries During the Holidays

Maintaining healthy boundaries is important the year round. But they can be especially challenged during the winter when family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays.

The holiday season is a time when you may be faced with unwanted invitations, requests for your time and money, pressure to travel or pressure to host events and people in your home.

Then there is the additional challenge of coming together with family members, friends and acquaintances who are difficult to be around, whose behavior and opinions you find troubling or offensive.

There could be many types of demands and it’s hard to say “no” even when it’s best for your physical, emotional, and financial well-being. But learning to set and keep boundaries — without getting angry or feeling guilty — is an essential skill of mental health. A few things to keep in mind:

  • When we decline to set boundaries, we sacrifice our own legitimate needs for the temporary comfort and convenience of others.
  • Friends and family can’t read your mind about your needs and limits. You have to tell them.
  • Expressing your boundaries honestly is not being mean or unkind; it is one authentic way to interact with others.
  • Your boundaries may make others feel angry, resentful or hurt. The truth is, you can soothe people’s feelings or maintain your boundaries — but you can’t do both.

Here are some tips for surviving the holidays:

  • Set some boundaries for yourself. Limit your shopping, cooking, gift-giving, hosting and socializing to avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Engage in holiday travel and activities because you really want to, not out of a sense of guilt or obligation.
  • Be calm, clear and respectful when  expressing your feelings and needs. State your preferences straightforwardly and without anger. Don’t “cave in” and then engage in passive aggressive behavior.
  • If the conversation turns to topics that make you uncomfortable, say so and ask to change the subject.
  • Be a peacemaker. Honor your family by being positive and avoiding conflict. But if the situation warrants, it’s okay to leave and take a break.
  • Stand in your truth. Be comfortable with who you are — despite others’ judgments about your lifestyle, occupation, politics, appearance, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Spend time with supportive, uplifting people during the season.
  • Finally, don’t be pressured to overindulge just because it’s the holidays. Temper your eating and alcohol consumption.

Yes, the holidays can be a difficult time. But if we’re honest with ourselves and others about what we can and can’t do, about what we can and can’t tolerate — then there’s a chance to really enjoy ourselves with family and friends this season.

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