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4 Ways to Set Boundaries When Visiting Family During the Holidays

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

It's that time of year again!

As lovely and exciting as Christmas can be, for many people it's a time they worry about or feel they just have to get through. After all, clashes are bound to happen with so many families and friends getting together, mixing lifestyles, values, and perspectives.

Whether you're worried about someone commenting on your weight, your parenting style or your political views, the uncertainty and apprehension about what to do in these moments can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. It can be hard to think of what to say because we worry about upsetting others or coming across as rude. Standing up for yourself might not be something you're used to or even comfortable with, but figuring out a way to establish limits your limits can help you enjoy the holidays so much more.

That's where boundaries come in.

Why Boundaries are Important for Everyone- but Especially for You

Boundaries are basically what you're okay with and what you're not okay with- what your limits are.

They are essential in any healthy relationship.

They stop the growth of resentment and burnout, lower the amount of unrealistic expectations, and allow us to understand ourselves better so that we have a better chance of communicating our needs to others.

Boundaries help you stay connected with yourself and advocate for your own experiences and energy.

However, boundaries also help the other party know where they stand and allow them to better understand how to engage with you in a mutually beneficial way, that enhances and strengthens the relationship.

5 Types of Boundaries and Holiday Examples

There are many different types of boundaries but here are 5 of the most common to consider:

Emotional: boundaries around protecting your emotional wellbeing (i.e. talking about topics that make you uncomfortable, drain you, or dismiss you...etc)

  • Thanks for your interest but can we please not talk about my love life as it's not something I want to discuss right now.

  • I don't like to gossip about other people and don't like being put in a situation where you talk bad about my friends/family. If you have an issue, please speak to them about it.

  • I'm here to support you but will not take responsibility for you.

Material: boundaries around your stuff, how/when it's used, how it's treated...etc.

  • Please make sure you return my car by the end of the night.

  • Unfortunately, I don't feel comfortable lending money to family or friends.

  • Unfortunately, we won't be able to have you stay at our place this year. There's just too much going on.

Time/energy: boundaries around punctuality, favours, when/how to be contacted...etc.

  • Unfortunately, I'll only be able to come to the party for a few hours but I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone.

  • I won't be able to make it as I've just got too much on at the moment but thank you so much for the invitation. How about we get together after the holidays when everything has settled down a bit?

  • Please don't contact me outside of working hours as I really need some down time to myself.

Physical: boundaries around your body, physical touch, comments about your physical appearance...etc.

  • Please respect that my child doesn't want to hug you.

  • Please don't put your arms around me.

  • I know this might not be your intention but it makes me uncomfortable when you talk about my body. Please stop.

Mental: boundaries around allowing your own free thoughts, opinions, beliefs to be expressed and acknowledged.

  • I can see that we're not going to agree on this issue so maybe it's best if we change the subject.

  • It's hard to have a conversation when you keep interrupting me. Please can you let me finish what I'd like to say and then you can respond?

  • Please don't attack my character just because you don't agree with my religious views.

How to Establish Boundaries

1. Be clear with yourself about what your boundaries are

What are you comfortable with? What are you uncomfortable with? What are your non-negotiables in how you want to be treated?

If establishing boundaries is new for you, try to take some time for yourself in order to connect with and understand your own limits. You can do this by growing your self-awareness and checking in with yourself more often. I offer a way of doing that in another blog I've written that you can read here.

2. Establish why they're important to you

This will make it easier for you to stick to them. Think about what you can say to yourself to remember why these boundaries are important to you. How do they align with your values? Or the way you want to live your life? Or the way you want to be treated?

3. How will you communicate them to others?

Think of ways to communicate this to others in a way that feels comfortable to you.

REMINDER- you do not need to explain yourself or go into a lot of detail with your response if you don't want to. 'No' is enough.

If you come up with some phrases in advance, then you'll feel more prepared to respond in a way that is true to yourself- not what you think you should say for the benefit of others.

If you're struggling with this, here are some more phrases to help you do this over the holidays.

Also, think about what you will do if these expectations aren't respected or honoured by others?

Remember, you may have to communicate this several times. This is not a reflection on you “failing” to implement your boundaries but simply a reflection of the other person’s difficulty to respect or adhere to your limits. It may take time for them to get used to the new relationship terms you're asking for and that's okay.

Keep reminding them as many times as needed and stick to you limits.

4. Seek emotional support if needed

Reach out to your close friends or family for support to help you if you feel lonely or unsupported. If this isn’t an option for you, seeking professional help is always an option.

Important Tips to Remember

  • Setting boundaries is about what YOU choose to do in certain situations- not what you want other people to do.

  • You don't need to ask for permission. This is about what you want or need- not what others want or expect from you.

  • The success criteria for boundary setting is NOT the other person's response or reaction. It's your ability to continually advocate for yourself and listen to what feels best for you.

  • You may still feel guilty and that is okay. It’s not about ignoring this but prioritizing your need to honour yourself over making others happy.

  • Start small and try to be as consistent as possible.

Establishing and maintaining boundaries is an ongoing and ever changing practice. It’s a skill that takes time to build and work on. So be gentle with yourselves whilst learning to implement this more into your lives.

If this is something you struggle with, get in touch to see how I can help you establish and maintain boundaries to help improve your relationships.

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