How to Set Boundaries with Family During the Holidays

by | Dec 5, 2022 | Adulting, Anxiety, Counseling, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), Stress

How to Set Boundaries with Family During the Holidays

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Setting boundaries is already a difficult task for many, but add the pressure of the holiday season on top of it, and you’ve got a recipe for stress. Many people feel heightened stress during the holiday season. In fact, multiple research studies have shown that a significant number of people feel increased anxiety and depression during the holiday season compared to the rest of the year [1]. This can result from many different factors, but one of them is the pressure to “keep the peace” and celebrate joyously with family and friends, even if they are making you upset or uncomfortable. 

Have you ever begrudgingly agreed to host a holiday party at your home despite it making you anxious? Have you neglected standing up for yourself when your mother-in-law made a rude comment to keep things lighthearted? Have you felt pressured into drinking alcohol at a holiday get-together just because you didn’t want to stand out amongst your family members? If the answer to any of these questions (or similar ones) is “Yes,” it may be beneficial for you to pick up the skill of setting boundaries with family so that you can have a fun, and mentally healthy, holiday season! 

5 Ways to Set Boundaries with Family:

1. Identify your needs. 

You may already know that holiday get-togethers cause you anxiety, but it is time to get specific. Ask yourself about when you feel the most anxious or uncomfortable, or like a boundary of yours is being crossed. Once you have pinpointed exactly what the things are that negatively impact your mental health during the holidays, you can work on creating boundaries that address them. Common holiday stressors you may be experiencing include: 

  • Financial worries when it comes to buying gifts or traveling
  • Arguments or push-back from extended family with different beliefs
  • Deciding what plans to attend and not attend (especially if there is pressure from your partner or the rest of your family) 

2. Communicate in a respectful but firm way. 

    When you respectfully communicate your boundaries, you reduce the chance of creating resentment between you and your loved ones. Passive aggression, hostility, and avoidance are all unhelpful ways to set boundaries that often end in animosity and damaged relationships. Once you identify your needs, practice how you will communicate them ahead of time until you come up with a respectful script. Once you are happy with the boundary you are setting, communicate it with your family in a calm but firm way. Chances are, if you lead with kindness, they will respect your boundary and feel grateful that you told them. Here are some examples of respectful scripts for common boundaries: 

      • Speaking to your family about financial worries: “I care so much about seeing you all for the holidays, but I have to also be conscious about budgeting when it comes to gifts. Because of this, I wanted to make it known ahead of time that I will only be purchasing gifts for everyone’s children at the holiday party. I encourage you all to do the same if this is something you’re more comfortable with—no gifts are needed on my end!” 
      • Arguments with extended family with different beliefs: “I’m so excited for the holiday get-together. As a general rule, I’d like to request that we stay away from controversial topics like religion and politics this year. Let’s keep the mood light and talk about other meaningful topics!”
      • Deciding what plans to attend and not attend: “I appreciate your invitation to the holiday party! I’ve decided to keep things small this year and only attend small get-togethers, as this is what I’m most comfortable with. I hope you have fun. Perhaps we can grab coffee next week.”

      3. Know that it is okay to excuse yourself and say “No.”

      There is nothing wrong with leaving an event early or saying “No,” if you feel pressure about something you are uncomfortable with. Although you don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation, sometimes a quick reasoning about why you are leaving early or canceling helps eliminate the chance of them getting offended. Here are some example scripts for excusing yourself from common holiday stressors: 

        • Speaking to your family about financial worries: “Money has been a bit tight this year, so I’ll be sitting out of the secret Santa gift exchange this time around. I’m still so excited to attend the party, though! ” 
        • Arguments with extended family with different beliefs: “No, I’d rather not talk about that topic. Let’s change the subject!”
        • Deciding what plans to attend and not attend: “I had a great time tonight, but I’m feeling a bit tired and overwhelmed. I’m going to head home early. Thanks for having me!”

        4. Set consequences for your boundaries.

        Sometimes, for others to take you seriously, you must make it clear that there will be consequences if your boundaries are crossed. This is not being rude or harsh—it’s standing up for yourself and setting expectations for how you expect to be treated. 

          • Speaking to your family about financial worries: “I don’t want there to be any judgment passed because of my smaller budget for gifts. If I experience this from family, I will point it out.” 
          • Arguments with extended family with different beliefs: “I am requesting that nobody asks for my stance on politics this year, as it makes me uncomfortable. If I experience this, I will have to excuse myself from the conversation.”
          • Deciding what plans to attend and not attend: “I don’t want to be pressured into staying at an event if I get anxious. If pressured, I will not attend the next event.”

        5. Put yourself and your mental health first. 

        Putting your well-being first is never selfish. At the end of the day, your mental health is most important. Feel proud of yourself for being vulnerable, assertive, and honest—it’s not an easy thing to do! 

        Setting boundaries can be difficult, but the result of them makes life so much easier. Hopefully, you feel inspired to set healthy boundaries with your family and have a happy holiday season!

        To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.

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