December - what comes to mind when you hear that word? Do you think of snow? Holiday traditions? Do you feel happier - like the holiday festivities coming up will be full of joy and excitement? Do you feel anticipation for holiday traditions? Are you excited to potentially connect with friends and family?
Or, are you like 61% of Americans who would rather take a vacation than go home for the holidays? Is the thought of forced family time stressful rather than relaxing for you? Do you envision the seemingly endless list of things to do - clean the house, prepare the meals, buy the gifts, wrap the presents, decorate, arrange travel plans - and want to skip the whole thing?
If your vision of December is more frustrating than festive, don’t worry - a large portion of the American population agrees with you. One of the most stressful elements of the holiday season can be plunging into unhealthy family dynamics as the holidays, regardless of what tradition you choose to celebrate, often push families to join together. It may not be surprising to you that a whole 75% of Americans said they need to incorporate breaks into family time during the holidays, and 37% have admitted to leaving the house solely to get a break.
One of our biggest tips for navigating time with your family this holiday season? Boundaries. Check out our three step process to boundaries below, courtesy of Higher Life Pathways!
Know How to Form Boundaries
While boundaries can be a buzzword, mental health professionals know the power that setting good boundaries brings. However, social media tends to talk a lot about the benefits of boundaries without diving into what a good boundary looks like.
First, there are different types of boundaries, including:
Physical boundaries: ways we protect our space and body
Material boundaries: ways we protect our belongings
Time boundaries: ways we protect our schedule
Emotional boundaries: ways we protect our mental health and emotional state
Moral boundaries: ways we uphold our values
Second, boundaries should be completely within your control. For example, saying “don’t touch me” is technically a boundary, but not a well-set one. Consider formatting your boundary statements as (1) what will violate your boundary, and (2) your reaction to a violated boundary. For example:
“I would like it if you’d ask before you touched my phone. If you don’t ask, I’ll leave my phone in the car to prevent my boundary from being broken.”
“I am not comfortable with hugs. If you try to hug me, I will decline.”
“I understand you want to talk about this political issue, but in order to protect my mental health, I am going to remove myself from the conversation.”
“I appreciate spending time with you all, but I am feeling drained after so much social interaction. I am going to spend some alone time in my room now. I’ll come out again when I’m ready.”
Today, think about your non-negotiables: what will you tolerate, and what will you not tolerate? What will be the result of someone testing your boundaries?
Communicate Your Boundaries
Now that you’re able to identify and form your boundaries, the next step is to communicate them. People aren’t mind-readers: they need to be told your expectations!
Prepare for discomfort as some people easily accept your boundaries, and others may question or even test them. Use clear terms to communicate your boundaries - for example:
Instead of: “I don’t really want to hug you, but sure,” try: “no thank you, I’d rather give you a fist bump in this situation.”
Instead of: “I’m feeling really overwhelmed, but I’ll be a good sport,” try: “I need to take care of myself right now. I’m leaving for a bit.”
Remember - give your family a clear statement on what is going on in your head, and how you personally will solve it.
Enforce Your Boundaries
Alright - you’ve formed a boundary, communicated it, and … your family violates your boundary anyway. What now?
The most important thing to do is follow through on the consequence you set. For example, if you said you’re overwhelmed and you’re leaving, be sure to leave. If you said you don’t want a hug and they insist on touching you anyway, reiterate your discomfort and follow through with avoiding those hugs. Remember - the only person you can control is you. If you don’t enforce your boundaries, others will continue to break them.
We hope this blog post helped you feel more confident in making and setting boundaries with your family during the holidays! At Higher Life Pathways, we’d be happy to talk to you about boundary setting, family dynamics, and more. Reach out today to be paired with a clinician; we look forward to hearing from you!
In the meantime - are you struggling to set boundaries in your marital relationship? Purchase Dr. Holder’s new book, “Six Key Steps to Unlocking a Healthy and Productive Relationship”, off Amazon today!