I’m just going to go ahead and say it: holiday season is stressful. Between shopping for gifts, writing or making cards to send out, decorating, organizing get togethers, cooking, cleaning, and then actually executing the day of, there doesn’t always feel like there is time to take care of yourself.
My husband and I both come from divorced parents, which is neither good, bad, or indifferent, merely a fact. One year we counted 10 different holiday events that we were going to attend within a 3-day period. We lived about an hour away from most of our family members at that time, so we also had to include the time it would take to travel to each location and even stayed away from our home for days in attempts to appease others and make our lives easier, so we thought. Throughout this extended weekend, we were stressed and felt like we were continuously disappointing our friends and family members because we would leave one event early just to make it to the next one late.
Now, whether that disappointment was real or perceived is another conversation regarding thought distortions to be had later, but nonetheless it felt genuine at that time. Even though I probably saw more loved ones that year than any previous year, it was one of my least favorite holiday seasons because of the unnecessary strain, guilt, and anguish that I felt, all of which likely could have been avoided with more effective boundary setting and keeping.
But what are boundaries?
Think of boundaries as your house or living space. Each room can be interpreted as another level of intimacy in every relationship that we have. For example, you might feel comfortable talking with your mail carrier on your front porch or in your yard but would likely not invite them inside to watch TV. You would feel comfortable talking with your friends on your front porch if you saw them walking by and would also invite those friends over for dinner and games in your kitchen and living room but would not further extend the invitation into your bedroom.
Physical boundaries (or touch) tend to be more easily understood and met, but emotional (unseen) boundaries are a little bit more difficult to maneuver, yet not impossible!
The first step is to tune into your own emotions. If this is not something you practice regularly, start by identifying how your body feels in any given situation, take those physical symptoms, and label them with a corresponding emotion. This may take time and lots of practice because many emotions feel and look similar to each other.
Once you are better able to identify your emotions and tune into your body, consider the thoughts that are typically attached to those emotions. Remember: emotions lead to thoughts; thoughts lead to actions. Without the ability to identify our emotions and thoughts, we usually end up in a loop of the same behaviors because our brain thrives on consistency.
When you are able to identify and tune into your emotions and thoughts, you will be able to more effectively understand where they are coming from. For example, do you have a person in your life that, whenever you are around them or even think about being around them, you instantly become irritated? Even though, that person likely did nothing wrong at that moment, past experiences and emotions may have brought you to that conclusion.
If you are to become more aware of these situations, there are a few healthy ways to combat those negative emotions and protect yourself. First, challenge those thought distortions as mentioned above. Ask yourself “Is this thought logical?”, “Is this thought realistic?”, “Is this thought reasonable for THIS situation?” If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it might be a good idea to change that thought into one that is more logical, realistic, and/or reasonable to the situation at hand.
However, if you feel that your emotions and thoughts are valid to the situation, it may be time to set some boundaries with this person/people and/or situation. In order to set the most effective boundaries, there are a few steps that need to be taken prior to communicating with the other person.
First, know exactly what you would like that boundary to look like. For instance, let’s talk politics. When it comes to the holiday dinner, would you prefer to not bring up the subject at all? Are there some political conversations you are all right with discussing? Which are okay and which are not? Be as specific as possible.
Once you have the ideal boundary in your mind, practice assertively setting that boundary out loud, preferably with a loved one that is healthy and supportive. Role play different situations and reactions that the other person may have when you set this boundary. It may feel a little silly at first, but any new skill takes time and repetition to master.
When it actually comes time to set the boundary with the person, remind yourself of what you can and cannot control. You control your emotions, your thoughts, and your actions. You cannot control the reaction of the person with whom you are setting the boundary. If they become upset, it is not your responsibility to make them feel better by compromising the boundary. I’m going to say that again.
It is not your responsibility to make someone feel better after you set a healthy boundary with them.
Depending on the relationship and the people involved, you may have to reiterate your new boundary numerous times before the point comes across. Remember, this is likely new for the other individual too, so use your patience with them and yourself. But ultimately, if the boundary continues to be broken, it may be time to distance yourself from that individual.
Even if it is your sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or lifelong best friend, you are not bound to that person for life just because of the previous relationship you had. Let me ask you this: If this person you are thinking about was not your sibling, parent, best friend, etc. would you want them in your life? If the answer is no, then it sounds like you have made up your mind.
Now, I will validate that setting boundaries is hard and uncomfortable; it’s not fun. But this is likely true with any kind of growth or change, and I truly believe that you will be a healthier individual on the other side.
Take this conversation further by commenting down below or engaging on our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram. Or, if you would like to continue with a mental health professional, schedule an appointment at zenlightenmentwellness.com or call (989) 285-1818.