As the holiday season approaches, it’s that time of year again for family gatherings.
For some of us, it’s a happy time, for others, it may be stressful and anxiety-provoking. You recall how last year Uncle Bob, in his drunk way, worriedly questioned you about still being single, or Aunt Catherine who commented how you looked “healthier”, referring to your weight gain.
Or for some, when your family members gather, people seem to revert back to their old roles during childhood—the good kid, the high-achieving sibling, the critical mom, or the emotionally absent dad.
Whatever your situation is, here’s one way to help you cope with your family gatherings, so you can stay sane and still (sort of) like your family afterwards.
Set healthy boundaries.
What are boundaries?
“A boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from others” (Katherine, 2010). You are the one who decides what you want to keep inside and outside of your line.
For some, the line may be a little further, whereas for others, it may be a bit closer. You get to decide.
Here are 4 different types of boundaries to consider:
- Intellectual boundary
This applies to your thoughts, values, and opinions. A healthy intellectual boundary indicates that you know and value what you believe. On the one hand, you won’t compromise values for others and can say “no” to others. On the other hand, you can respect different voices and accept disagreements as well.
So if mom comments about your dress at the party and shares that you shouldn’t be dressing the way you do at your age, you can respectfully disagree and tell her that “I like the way I dress and I’m going to keep dressing this way. You don’t have to like it, and that’s okay. But please don’t share your opinion unless I ask for it.”
- Emotional boundary
This refers to your feelings. This boundary involves owning your feelings, meaning being responsible for your own feelings and deciding how much you want to share your feelings with others. Moreover, you are not responsible for other people’s feelings.
So, if mom feels offended that you won’t take her “constructive criticism”, that’s her problem, not yours. You need to allow her to feel what she does without the need to protect her by withholding your own feelings.
- Physical boundary
This pertains to personal space and body. You might be a private person and not feel comfortable with physical touch, such as hugs, handholding, and kisses. Your subjective feelings of comfort and safety define where your physical boundary is.
So, when drunk Uncle Bob goes in for the bear hug and sloppy kiss, you can respectfully tell him that “I’m not a hugging kind of person, so I’d rather not, thanks”.
- Material boundary
This applies to money and possessions. A material boundary means that you can determine whether you feel comfortable giving or lending things, such as your money, car, clothes, books, food, or toothbrush.
Thus, when your unemployed sibling at the party asks for another loan (although they haven’t paid you back for the one they borrowed last Christmas), you can respectfully decline by stating that “I decided to have a policy against lending money to family”.
When you set healthy boundaries, it provides a game plan on how to navigate tricky situations with family. It also helps you feel good and in control when dealing with difficult people. And this is how you still like your family after the holidays.