December 18, 2020

Picture this scenario: You’re really looking forward to seeing your family over the holidays. Heck, this year, you even quarantined yourself for a week ahead of time to make the trip happen. Within a couple of hours of arriving, you find yourself getting frustrated at the same questions and opinions being forced on you for yet another year. All that personal growth you were so proud of goes out the window as you fall back into relationship dynamics and patterns that no longer (or never did) serve you, just to keep the peace. By the end of the weekend, you’re emotionally exhausted, feeling guilty, spiking your eggnog, and vowing to yourself that next holiday, you’re going to the Bahamas instead… alone. Spoiler alert: the others in your family probably feel the same way.

Chances are, some version of this sounds familiar. It’s not that you don’t love your family and they you. It is likely though, that a lack of boundaries is coming in to play. You might need to work on your boundaries if you:

  • Feel guilty about or struggle to express your needs.
  • Don’t speak up when someone has upset you or treats you unfairly.
  • Frequently overextend yourself for the sake of others or to keep the peace.
  • Often feel your relationships are one-sided.
  • Struggle with self-discipline. ex. Staying later, or eating and drinking more than you’re comfortable with.

You may want to write off expressing your boundaries as unnecessary, because everyone can survive a few uncomfortable days, right? But as Certified Mindset Coach, Africa Brooke says:

Setting boundaries can be f*cking scary, but unpacking your suitcase in resentment and spiritual exhaustion is even more frightening.

First off, it’s important to remember that boundaries are not the same as building walls to keep out intimacy and vulnerability. In fact, they’re the opposite. Boundaries serve as a roadmap for those in your life to understand how you need to be treated. By clearly communicating your boundaries, you can minimize a lot of unnecessary friction, allowing for deeper, more harmonious relationships.

That being said, setting boundaries takes some work. For a start, it takes knowing yourself, your needs, your limits, and your triggers. You might want to spend some time journaling ahead of family gatherings so that you can be clear on what your boundaries are. And it’s okay if they’ve changed or evolved. While exploring your boundaries, pay special attention to the moments in your life where you have felt hurt or resentment. Chances are, that was a moment when a boundary was crossed.

Healthy Boundaries look like:

  • Being comfortable saying “no,” and not needing to explain or defend yourself if you don’t want to do something.
  • Conversely, respecting when others say “no” to you.
  • Being okay with others not agreeing with you.
  • Understanding that it’s not your job to fix others or anticipate their needs.
  • Being comfortable with tending to your own needs and self-discipline, even if others don’t understand them. You’re allowed to prioritize your wellbeing.
  • Expressing your needs or limits in a respectful way. Remember, often people don’t mean to be hurtful and might not even know they’re crossing a boundary until you tell them.

PRO TIP: Try saying no with a positive energy.

ex. “Thank you for caring about me enough to be interested in my future. I actually really look forward to discussing my marriage plans when/if I cross that bridge one day. Until then I’d prefer if we spoke about all the other amazing experiences in my life as opposed to my relationship status.”

You might be a seasoned pro at communicating your needs and saying “no.” But if you have a bit of a people-pleasing streak, be careful to not say “no” and then shortly afterwards make an exception, and end up doing the very thing you just declined. Boundaries go both ways, and stepping over the line you drew in the sand creates uncertainty of where your boundaries lie for both you and your loved ones. This confusion can open up the door for others to step over that same boundary down the line.

So, what do you do if you’ve set your boundaries at a holiday gathering and someone still crosses the line?

  • Calmly remind the other person how they’ve overstepped, and if necessary, that you will need to remove yourself from the situation if they continue to disrespect your needs.
  • Pause and check in with yourself. If you’re feeling a strong emotional response, take a timeout to do some calming breathwork. We love the 4,7,8 technique, where you inhale for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7, and exhale for the count of 8. Repeat until you feel calm. If you still feel the need to leave, honor that need.
  • Show yourself some extra love and self-care in the coming days. Give yourself some grace and recharge your happy battery by focusing your attention on activities and people that make you feel safe and heard.

We hope this crash course in boundaries can help you get through the good, the bad, and the weird this holiday season, and beyond. After the year we’ve had, each and every one of us deserves a little compassion and understanding, and a whole lot of holiday cheer.