The holidays can be a great time to reconnect with family members. But, it can also be the most difficult time of year to keep your boundaries with them. Chances are, you’ll be seeing your family more than usual, and that might already cause some discomfort if you don’t have the best track record with certain members.
Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning. In many families, women still take on the majority of the “domestic” roles. Around the holidays, that means things like cooking, cleaning, shopping, and making sure family traditions remain alive and well. You might not mind taking on those roles, but if you have family members who cross lines and expect too much of you, it can create a lot of tension.
So, what can you do to stand firm to your boundaries this holiday season? How can you enjoy your family celebrations without having to worry about certain people crossing lines?
Address Your Concerns
The earlier you address your concerns with your family, the better. Communicate with those closest to you first, like a spouse or parent. People need to know where you’re coming from and why you’re concerned. When they know, they can serve as your support system while you’re around your extended family.
While it might be more difficult to do, you should even verbalize the issue(s) with that particular family member. It’s okay to let them know how you feel. If you don’t think you have the courage to speak up, take a deep breath and keep some of the following tips in mind:
- Be assertive.
- Don’t worry about being “mean”. Practice ahead of time so you know you’re coming across clearly without being nasty.
- Learn to say “no”.
- Explain how a family member’s crossed lines make you feel. They might not even realize that they’re hurting you.
Verbalization is an important first step. It puts everyone on the same page, and when done correctly it leaves no room for confusion. Ideally, your family members will respect your wishes and not want to cause you pain or discomfort.
Seeing Your Boundaries Through
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. There may be instances in which you have to see your boundaries because a family member won’t let up. For example, if someone in your family is bullying you, it’s important to put a stop to it right away. As a woman, you have a strong responsibility to set an example with bullies – especially if you have children.
Sometimes, it may be your own parents who are bullying you. Set an example and let them know that you meant what you said about your boundaries. Communicate calmly with them. Simply letting them know you won’t be tolerating their behavior is good enough.
If they’re still not willing to change, leave the situation.
Is it an easy thing to do? No.
Is it the right thing to do? Yes, especially with young eyes watching. While it can be tempting to retaliate right away, you don’t have to engage in a public conflict with everyone else around. Instead, try the following technique before saying anything:
- Count to four slowly as you inhale through your nose.
- Focus on those numbers.
- Exhale on the same four-count.
- Repeat until your breathing returns to normal.
That simple exercise will help you to keep your cool before you make any major decisions. It can also give you the courage you need to stand up for yourself and leave, if necessary.
Dealing With Guilt
The holidays tend to be hyper-focused on family. They emphasize the importance of togetherness and spending time with people you love. So, if you’re having issues with certain family members, it’s easy to feel a little guilty. You might not want to rock the boat or make things difficult for anyone else.
Boundaries are a safe and healthy way to put the ball in someone else’s court. By simply stating your needs and how you feel, it’s up to other family members to decide how they will respond.
If you’re still struggling with guilt or you’re having a hard time building up the confidence to stick to your boundaries, make sure you’re taking care of yourself – mentally and physically. Self-care is always important, but it’s especially crucial around the holidays when things are already stressful. Rely on your support system to get you through, and if things are still difficult, consider working with a counselor. Doing so can make it easier to alleviate your guilt, and the right mental health professional can even help you feel more confident in your boundaries.
This season should be one you’re able to enjoy. So, don’t feel pressured to fall into traditional traps that may have caused you pain or discomfort in years past. Speak up, be clear, and stick to the boundaries you know will make your season brighter.
Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.