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How To Maintain Your Holiday Boundaries 

 The holiday season can bring up mixed emotions for most people. We are bombarded with images of happy families on TV sharing a meal together peacefully and enjoying each other’s company.  complete with candles twinkling and children giggling in the background. These Hallmark moments seem like the farthest thing from your holiday experiences. Maybe you’re used to more chaos and hearing people fighting or getting angry during family get-togethers, and you absolutely dread going to them for a variety of reasons. It can be hard to see those pleasant images in stark contrast to your own experience. Not everyone has picture perfect relationships with their families. If you are someone who doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy when you think about spending time with your family over the holiday season, you are not alone. This week’s blog is full of things to consider that will help maintain healthy boundaries (and your sanity) as we are moving into the holiday season.  

Stay Within Your Budget

(Financial and Emotional)

During the holidays you may feel obligated to buy a lot of people gifts and feel compelled to spend money that you might not have or don’t feel comfortable spending. Remember, gifts are supposed signify that you care for someone, and that doesn’t have to include a hefty price tag.

How to stay within Your Financial Budget
  • First consider:
    • Why do I feel compelled to get this person something?
    • What am I comfortable spending?
    • How will this impact my other monthly bills and budgets
  • Create a realistic limit and stick to it
  • Consider baking or crafting gifts (there are lots of low cost ideas on Pinterest)
  • Allow yourself to give cards instead of gifts
  • Focus on spending time rather then money over the holidays (as long as that time doesn’t bankrupt your emotional budget!)

(or As for your emotional budget, be honest and realistic with yourself about how much energy you actually have to spend. If you have young kids and your relatives want you to host a holiday dinner at your place, and that feels like it’s too much, say so! If someone asks for you to cook and that feels like it’s too stressful for you, say so! If you have various family members wanting you to run to 6 different places in one day, its OK to say NO! Sacrificing your mental health for someone else is never okay, and the holiday season certainly isn’t an exception. You might say something like, “You know, I would really like to be involved, but that seems like a bit too much for me right now. I am willing (or able) to _____.”  

Allow Yourself To Say No 

You are not obligated to sacrifice your mental health in order to satisfy the demands of others. Taking care of yourself should not go out the window this holiday season. If you feel like attending a family function would be detrimental to your mental health for any reason, give yourself permission not to go and make alternate plans (or no plans, its OK to stay home and do nothing). Don’t punish yourself for taking care of yourself. Maybe you’re making the decision to cut ties with an abuser permanently. Maybe you just don’t have the energy for dealing with negativity and tension. It’s okay to decide that something is not healthy for you and make choices accordingly. Not everyone has to like to decisions that you make for yourself. It goes back to the old saying “you can please some people some of the time but not all people all of the time” so stop trying!

Things to consider when deciding whether to go to family functions: 
  • Is attending harmful  to me? emotionally, financially or even physically
  • Is attending disrespecting or under-minding the boundaries I’ve set for myself?
  • Am I trying to isolate for some reason? Would going help me feel better or worse? 
  • What is underlying my discomfort?
    • Can I honor that and still attend and feel safe?

You Can Create Your Family 

There are parts of us that will likely always want the approval of our parents or desire that things had been different during our childhood. It’s important that we honor those tender parts of ourselves when they need attention and are feeling hurt or exposed. However, we can also take responsibility for creating a life and connections that fulfill our needs, even those that weren’t necessarily met in our childhood. Simply being related to someone by blood does not mean that they are a healthy person for you to be around. That can be a hard and painful lesson to learn. You can absolutely love a person from afar, but YOU get to decide what distance feels comfortable and safe to you. 

On the flip-side,

You can connect with people who aren’t related to you by blood that lift you up, make you feel welcome, and make you feel safe.

You can create your own family throughout your lifetime.

You can decide how you define family. Sometimes, people who have tension in their families feel like they have no family.

You can always choose to shift your perspective and allow for a more expansive definition.  

You might come to define family as the people you feel closest to emotionally, or the people that you feel safe enough to be yourself around

Ongoing Help 

Working with a counselor can help you come up with a plan to keep yourself safe and calm during the holidays. This way, you’ll be sure to plan on behaving in ways that feel authentic to you and don’t feel driven out of fear, anxiety, or pleasing other people. Sometimes it can be hard to tease apart what we actually WANT to do versus what we feel like we SHOULD WANT to do. Seeing a counselor can help you figure out just that. It’s normal to have family obligations, but it’s also important to take care of yourself and say no to things that are unhealthy for you. Make an appointment with Angelus today to create a holiday plan that you feel comfortable and excited about. Here are some other tips for managing stress during the holidays

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services

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