How to set healthy boundaries during the holidays

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Whether you have an intact family of origin, a family of choice, or both, the idea of spending time with them during the holidays may stress you out… and you are not alone. For many, visiting family means spending time, energy, or money in ways that don’t align with their values. It can get increasingly tricky if there are radically different political views, lifestyles, or religious beliefs among those we are spending time with over the holidays.

Some of us have families who don’t accept our sexuality, partner, or choice of career. The list could go on and on, and it’s a situation ripe for generating unsettling feelings of anger, resentment, inadequacy and loneliness. It can also reinforce strongly held beliefs stemming from historic marginalization and prejudices.

selective focus photography of girl an woman hugging each other in front of christmas tree Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

So, we need something to help us remain authentic and successfully socialize during these times. Don’t think of Captain America or Iron Man type-protection (yes, I love Marvel), but something subtle. There’s a myriad of expectations and personalities to manage while spending time with others during the holidays. One small step, which may be the only step needed, is to learn how to set healthy boundaries so you can perhaps enjoy the holidays, rather than dread them.

Having a healthy support system is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental wellbeing. And setting boundaries with friends and family during the holidays can be an important part of ensuring you stay on track. Boundaries are important for everyone to have and set, as well as having respect for those of others. Setting such boundaries may be especially important for recently “out” members of the LGBTQIA+ community, where some family members may not be accepting of who they are, how they identify, and who they love.

While I remained closeted for my adolescence, being from a rural area, I lacked boundaries to protect family members from making harsh comments about my love for cooking, Paula Abdul, or for being “silly.” This is in stark contrast from when I had people present who accepted me, like my mom, my Aunt Zephyr, or a couple of my cousins, and I was able to enforce a proximal boundary; where I distanced myself from those who were unaffirming of my developing self. Not everyone has this and it may not be consistent. Therefore, a better approach is to create and maintain boundaries to sustain functional relationships with family and friends.

If you’re planning on spending time with family over the holidays and feeling a little activated, here’s a few ideas to help you set boundaries and take care of yourself during the holidays.

man in brown zip-up jacket Photo by Joel Barwick on Unsplash

  • Think about topics that may be difficult and prepare for them.
  • Take time to be alone.
  • Calmly communicate what is off limits (practice this!).
  • Establish your territory. Where are you staying and how long will you be there. Having a neutral space like a hotel can give you the time away that you may need.
  • The holidays are for everyone. Be sure to plan things that are fun for you.
  • Utilize your support system and let them know ahead of time where and when you may need them.
  • Remember that celebrating the holidays with those who are supportive and loving can make the holidays all the more special.

And finally, remember you are amazingly fabulous and are deserving of joy! Take the opportunity to:

  • Be proud and share your accomplishments
  • Discuss and educate others about the LGBTQIA+ community
  • Be entertained, rather than be the entertainment. No stereotypes here (unless you want to be, then you do you).
  • Practice grace and humility. Some people may let you down but recognize that they may be doing the best they can. There’s opportunity for growth in all of us.

Happy Holidays!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. William Marsh is a Clinical Director and a primary supervisor for the APA accredited clinical psychology internship program with Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. With all areas of his work, he incorporates his passion for fostering positive interpersonal dynamics that help others identify, support and reach their goals and dreams. More information about programs and services is available at sbhservices.org.

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