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6 Tips for setting healthy boundaries during the holidays (or any time of the year).

                                                                                                                       By: Jaclyn Rink, MSCP, LLP

1. Use first person language:  “Me” “I need” “I feel”
Humans are defensive by nature. It is a necessary biological drive to put up our defenses when we feel threatened or wronged in order to ensure our survival. However, in the moment, many of us forget that we are no longer in archaic times, and that our interpretation of these primitive emotions may not be accurate or useful (e.g., “Is our safety ACTUALLY being threatened by this person talking to us?”) In order to help turn off this defense system, try communicating in first person language such as, “I feel”, “I need”, “My opinion.” This helps the receiver of the message feel like it is not about them or their actions, it’s about you.

  “I feel uncomfortable coming over for Christmas this year. I need to keep the kids healthy so they can return to in-person school after the new year.” 

2. Communicate it clearly. The less words the better.

Don’t be Charlie Brown’s Mom. Studies show that most people hear only about 25% of what is said to them, so keep it simple, or it will just start to sound like a bunch of “Wah, Wah, Wah’s.” Make sure you say EXACTLY what you mean and don’t beat around the bush. Be firm and clear.

If you want everyone at the holiday gathering to be wearing masks, don’t loose your backbone and make it “Preferred” say what you mean, “Masks are mandatory.”  

3. Remind them that the purpose of a boundary is positive.

I saw this quote the other day, and it is what inspired me to write this blog. “When you attempt to set boundaries with someone, it is not an attempt to hurt them, but an intention to continue the relationship.” Boundaries are healthy. The only reason most of us don’t like them is because we aren’t used to them. They feel foreign to us, especially when most of us are people pleasers. Without boundaries, many of us feel taken advantage over time, and that does not bode well for the relationship. What happens if you constantly feel like you are getting the short end of the stick? You end the relationship. That’s not what this is about. Boundaries help us to balance our own needs with the needs of the other person, which keeps the relationship happy and therefore, ongoing.

“I am doing this because I care about our relationship.”

4. Get comfortable with the word “No” and being in a state of disagreement.

When you say “No” you are setting a boundary. The word “No” has become associated with a negative connotation in our society. We mostly struggle to use this word out of a desire to avoid conflict. If we just “yes, ma’am” every time, no one can ever be upset with us, and we often receive positive praise from others for being in agreement with them. Boundaries are the exact opposite of this; saying no when we need to, putting our own needs first, and accepting that this may not make the people around us happy. “No, Mom. I can’t come to Christmas this year.” Mom is not going to be happy, but this is where self-respect must kick in. Mom’s feelings are important, but so are yours, leaving you in a state of disagreement. Here’s an interesting piece of info for you, You can disagree with someone and still love and respect them. You can’t bend/break your own boundaries, and still expect to have that same love and respect for yourself.

5. Take a break and come back to it.

The logical parts of your brain shut down when you become too upset, so, probably not a good time to make decisions when your brain is in a heightened emotional state. These are the moments where we end up saying things we don’t mean, and ultimately can’t be unheard by the

receiver. Acting in the heat of the moment only creates more tension. If the conversation starts to get heated, let the other person know you need a moment to gather yourself, and that you’re happy to talk again after the fact. Or, initiate a break on behalf of the other party.

“I can tell we are both getting upset, and I don’t want to say anything I can’t take back. Let’s take a little break and we can talk again in an hour.”

6. Don’t focus on misplaced guilt

When we feel guilt, it signals to us that we have done something that is against our values. The reason we feel guilt is to prevent us from doing said thing again in the future. However, just like I mentioned in number 1, this is a primitive emotion, and we need to make sure we are, in fact,  interpreting it correctly. If we ACTUALLY did something wrong, then yes, acknowledge that, make amends, try not to replicate your actions in the future, and forgive yourself. If you didn’t do something wrong, which, you guessed it, setting a boundary is not wrong, then the guilt your feeling is misplaced. We are often shamed for putting our needs first, and we are quick to feel selfish. It may feel weird making yourself a priority, but with some practice and determination, you’ll get better at it and you won’t feel so guilty for taking care of yourself. The opposite actually starts to happen… most people feel an increase in their self-esteem, self-worth and a decrease in their anxiety and stress when they set healthy boundaries. So long, guilt!

None of these steps have to be cold or harsh. You can be kind and empathetic while you stand up for what you need. Don’t forget to practice patience while you hear the other person out, and be sure to validate their concerns and emotional experiences. However, stay firm, and come back to your boundary like a broken record.

“I know that this isn’t what you want for the holidays, and I can understand why you are going to miss the kids. It is just really important to me that we stay home this year to keep everyone safe.”