house in the snow with a small fence

Fences and Walls: The Gift of Boundaries

This should be the “most wonderful time of the year…” so why am I so stressed?

When you think of the holiday season, what do you feel? Do you feel excitement from the idea of lights, Christmas trees, cookies, and loved ones gathered together? Or are you feeling anxious, stressed, and dreading the inevitable uncomfortable conversations and financial burdens? For some of us the holiday season is full of celebration, reflection, connection, and love with our family and closest loved ones. For others, it can be burdensome to navigate family dynamics and financial hardships.  The majority of holidays do not play out like the cheesy, “guilty-pleasure” hallmark movies. Whether you have a really close relationship with your family, or you simply tolerate them in small increments a few times a year, holiday get togethers come with a lot of pressure which can make them feel stressful, chaotic, and uncomfortable.  The most utilized gift you’ll receive all year is one you can give yourself to protect you from the stress and tension that comes along with the “most wonderful time of the year”, and that is the gift of boundaries.

Boundaries are not selfish or disrespectful, they are simply limits we set for ourselves to protect ourselves and our relationships. When boundaries aren’t established, you may experience feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, or simply being placed in an uncomfortable situation. During the holidays we may feel the need to seek approval from other loved ones or family members around us, feel obligated to follow family traditions, or excessively travel to accommodate others plans which untimely fuels the fire of feeling stress and anxiety in a time where you’re supposed to feel joy and connection. 

So here are a few things we can do to make sure our time with family is utilized in the celebrations, reflections, and connections instead of the anxiety, stress, and conflict you’re expecting to experience. 

  1. set clear boundaries

Setting clear boundaries is necessary, even for the closest and most loving families. These boundaries can look different depending on the circumstances surrounding the family. Some may need to implement discussion boundaries, financial boundaries, travel boundaries, or personal boundaries that can be caused by past dysfunction or trauma. Remember, you are the only one who decides where you will or will not travel, how much money you will or will not spend, and how much time will be devoted to a location or a person this year. Making a play or what I like to call a “rough draft schedule” of where you’ll attend an event and how long you will attend this event for may help you prepare emotionally for said event. Also, deciding what conversation topics are off limits may be beneficial to avoiding that predictable family argument.

2. set clear expectations and communicate these expectations

Each boundary you chose to set has a reason behind it. These reasons can range from a lack of respect of our personal opinions, past or present abusive behavior, or the constant feeling of being talked down to by others around us. We need to be mindful that not everyone sees the world as we do or has the same beliefs. Something that may be triggering to you may be normal conversations for others. Communicating your boundaries to those around you can encourage others to do their best in respecting your boundaries. When you talk to your family about your boundaries be clear and specific so there is no room for miscommunication or misunderstandings, which feed those feelings of anxiety, stress and being uncomfortable you previously feared.  Although you need to communicate your boundaries, you have no obligation to explain the justification behind your boundaries. If they want to respect you, they will respect there is a valid reason behind them and respect your decision to set them. 

3. honor your own boundaries

If you want your family to respect your boundaries, you need to make sure you are also respecting your boundaries. When others do not see you taking your boundaries seriously, they will not take them seriously either, leading once again to the feeling of disrespect. Hold yourself and others accountable. 

The functional boundaries we set with family members are what allows us to build a healthy, balanced, and happy mindset surrounding the holidays and help remove the fear of interactions. Relaxing your boundaries for the sake of family peace puts you at risk for experiencing the same unhealthy dynamics you feared before setting the boundaries which could put you at risk for further damaging your family relationships and worsen the anxiety and stress surrounding the holidays. 

One last important thing to remember is that you cannot control everything. There are only two things in the entire world you can control: your thoughts and your actions. You cannot control the way others talk to you or the conflicting views and opinions of those around you, but you can control your attitude, your kindness, and your boundaries. When you choose to let go of what you cannot control and take ownership of what you can, you’ll immediately feel the reduced holiday stress.