Are you dealing with the stress of navigating difficult family members this holiday season? You are not alone.
Here are some helpful boundaries to get you started: “Thanks for the invitation. However, we will be doing our own thing this year.” “I appreciate you opening your home to us, but we’d prefer to stay in a hotel.” “We are looking forward to being together, but we can only stay for a couple of hours.” “I need help preparing the meal; I’m feeling overwhelmed.” “I prefer to set my own schedule for the day and do what is restful for me.” “I’d like to change the subject and avoid political discussions. I find them stressful.” “I have a limited budget, so I’m unable to contribute that $ amount and/or bring that # of dishes for the meal.”
“Please do not give me parenting or relationship advice, and do not discipline my children or treat my partner poorly."
The truth is…
It’s OK not to go all out decorating your home this year.
It’s OK to skip preparing for the Big Meal and order takeout instead.
It’s OK to celebrate the holidays with NEITHER side of the family and do your own thing.
It’s OK to turn down invitations for that holiday party/dinner/gathering and watch movies instead.
It’s OK to take this year off from buying gifts for friends and extended family.
It’s OK to take a bath, a nap, or read a book instead of searching for online shopping deals.
Boundaries for protecting your peace, time, and energy can look like: “I only have 10 minutes to talk.” “Today is not a good day for you to visit.” “Rather than stopping by unannounced, please ask first if it’s a good time to come over.” When someone is trying to force their opinion on you or engage in conversation that feels emotionally inappropriate, you can say: “I’m not asking for feedback right now.” “I need time to think on that. I’ll respond when I’m ready.” “I’m not comfortable discussing this topic any longer.” “I’d rather not explain myself or give reasons for my decision." In severe cases where it's apparent the other person does not want to honor your boundaries and your interactions become heated and intense, you can say: "It seems this conversation has turned into a debate, and I am uninterested in building a case against each other." "We seem to be at a standstill. Let's agree to disagree." "I’m going to end this call (or walk away) because I feel hurt and need space.” Boundaries related to self-care and expressing your personal needs can look like: “When I wake up, I need 20 minutes of quiet time every morning to journal, pray, and meditate.” “I need to go for a walk every day after work to move my body and clear my head.” “I have an important work project due. I need you to take care of the household chores this week so I can meet my deadline.” “This weekend, I’m planning on having a day date just for me. I need you not to make plans with friends or family.” “When I share an issue I’m struggling with, I need you to listen to me vent instead of trying to fix it.” “I need some alone time before bed to zone out and relax after an evening out with friends. Would you mind not interrupting me?” “I need words of affirmation; it would mean so much if you would compliment me more often.”
Feeling guilty when you set a boundary - especially during the holidays?
What everyone else does to celebrate the holidays is not always what is best for you.
After considerable discussion, you and your spouse make the decision that for the holidays this year you are going to vacation together and enjoy a relaxing change of pace. You want to spend some much-needed fun time with just the two of you. You want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of dealing with extended family - stressing over meal planning, scheduling activities, arguing over who gets what room, financial contribution disagreements, and engaging in the same draining religious and political conversations year after year.
You finally muster up the courage to kindly tell your extended family you will not be spending the holidays with them this year. They respond by trying to guilt-trip you into changing your mind. They are sad, shocked, and disappointed at your decision.
"How can you break this precious family tradition? After all, you have time off work, a nice vacation home, and space for everyone, making it so much easier on all of us.” Your family continues about how their lives are more stressful than yours and how they really need a break. “Why can’t you go on vacation just the two of you another time? Don’t you want to make Christmas memories together with us?”
After engaging with them, you feel the emotional weight of making yourself responsible for everyone's happiness. So, you tell your spouse, “Let’s just host everyone one more year.”
These decisions seem minuscule at first, but when the pattern continues in your relationships throughout the year (chronic caretaking, one-sided relationships, putting other people’s needs above your own, having no boundaries), you eventually find yourself depleted, secretly resentful, and joyless.
You gradually lose yourself trying to please everyone else.
I can hear you now. That’s easier said than done. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just setting the boundary that is difficult. It’s how you feel after you set the boundary that is equally difficult.
People will most often be upset and disappointed when you set a boundary because your behavior is no longer serving or benefiting them.
When my clients learn to set boundaries, they tell me how guilty they feel. Setting boundaries can be misconstrued as selfish, mean, a lack of caring, or even ungodly. For this reason, as you begin to set boundaries, anxiety or shame tends to show up. This is because your pattern of people-pleasing or self-neglect is deep-rooted, typically stemming in childhood.
Setting boundaries often triggers an unconscious fear of abandonment due to the possibility of losing the relationship. Perhaps you experienced this pattern growing up. That’s why many of us say yes when we really mean no because it is easier to avoid conflict and not risk rejection. It takes consistency and courage to be OK with allowing others to be disappointed, hurt, or angry with you. It also requires resisting the urge to be responsible for others' happiness.
Even though someone is a family member, it does not mean you’re obligated to have a relationship with them if they continue to hurt or disrespect you. You might be thinking, isn’t family everything? Many well-meaning people believe that the actions of family should be completely overlooked, even calling it Christlike. That we should just “get over” certain things. That we should ignore our own needs and put family first, no matter the cost.
Family does not mean a continual sacrifice of your mental and emotional well-being. For many people, family is a safe place of support. It’s people you can depend on and where you can fully be yourself and loved as you are. For others, it’s not. Perhaps you cannot cut family members out of your life, but you can set boundaries, refrain from closeness and deep conversations, or not see them regularly.
Recognize that people who do not want to respect your boundaries do not want to understand them and, therefore, cannot honor them. Mentally rehearsing conversations on how to get them to get it only drains your energy because you feel responsible. Instead, work on letting go of pleasing them and show up in a way that is not costly to you.
Overcoming hardwired people-pleasing patterns takes hard work and a deep commitment to believing the truth that you are not doing something wrong when you make room for yourself in relationships.
So, for all you people-pleasers who have a big heart to help and care for others but feel emotionally responsible for carrying the weight of your relationships…
Take it as a sign of growth and healing if you feel guilty and selfish when you set a boundary. That’s how you know you’re on the right path!