As the holidays approach, our TVs are flooded with commercials depicting blissful families, gathering around delicious meals, in perfectly decorated homes… It appears that every family is happy and drama free (as long as they use the right kind of mayonnaise or whatever the advertisers are selling).
And then there is real life. Relationships can get messy and complicated. Even with the best of intentions, parents of adult children can get too bossy, in-laws can act insensitively, and many of us give of our time or resources beyond what we are comfortable with out of a need to please or a fear of saying “no”. If you find yourself approaching family gatherings with ambivalence, guilt, anxiety, or even resentment, you may want to take a look at your boundaries.
For centuries, cultures through out the world have had some form of the proverb: “good fences make good neighbors.” We can also say that good boundaries make healthy families. Why? Because in order to have a healthy relationship, we must be clear on where I end and you begin. If your personal boundaries are weak, you may find yourself giving gifts that you can’t afford, disclosing personal information to a nosey inquirer just because they asked, or spending the holiday driving all over town because you feel guilty if you don’t visit all of the extended family.
By stopping to clarify your personal boundaries, and creating a plan for maintaining those boundaries, I hope that you can alleviate some of that guilt and stress and find more satisfying connections this holiday season. Here are some simple steps to establishing your personal boundaries:
Define: What is most important to you, and how will you honor your values this season. How will you spend your time, money, and energy? Do you want to see everyone, or will you invest your time in a few special relationships this season? How much money will you allot to giving this holiday season? Will you keep your parent’s traditions or start some of your own? Are you comfortable attending religious services? Before agreeing to an activity, ask yourself “if I say ‘yes’ to this, what will I be saying ‘no’ to?”’
Plan: Be proactive in establishing plans that reflect your values. If you have realized that you can’t afford to participate in the traditional family gift exchange, let them know early through a group email. For example, “Just wanted to let you know, I plan to show my love through home made gifts this year.” If you feel strongly that you would like to spend Christmas morning at home this year, decide how much time you want at home, and let your extended family know what time you will be ready to join in the activities. It is much easier to set boundaries when you focus on the things that matter to you, rather than things you want to avoid.
Be Prepared: There will always be requests or expectations that you are not able or willing to meet. If you anticipate those situations, mentally rehearsing how you want to respond, you will be ready to hold your boundaries. It can help to let others know that while you would like to say yes, the cost for you would be to great. For example: “I would love to come visit this year, but if I bought that plane ticket I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent next month.” Or, “I’d like to host Thanksgiving, but since I have to work the day before I would be up all night cooking and I would be falling asleep in my mashed potatoes the next day.” When you feel cornered by an overly personal question, have a few other topics that you can gracefully change the subject to. For example, when Great Aunt Lucy asks why you’re still single, try responding with “I know that you care and want to see me happy. I would really rather talk about the things I’m doing right now. Did I tell you about the new project I’m working on?”
If you want to implement these steps, but you’re having trouble getting started, there may be some deeper roots involved. Perhaps your boundaries have been overstepped one to many times, or you have trouble believing that your feelings matter as much as everyone else’s. If setting boundaries is a challenge for you, individual counseling is one of the most effective paths to healing. I would love to help you establish boundaries and enjoy the upcoming holiday season!
- Carla Munger, LMHC
Call to make an appointment today at: (425) 295-7697