We see our families more often during the holiday season than any other time. Coincidently, we see our therapist less. I always get a ton of phone calls after the holiday season regarding family stress and meltdowns that occurred over the break. It is ironic that the “most wonderful time of the year” can be a reminder of why one only speaks to their mother once a week. During this holiday season, for your own sanity, work on setting boundaries with your loved ones so that you don’t end up drinking a whole box of wine. By yourself. In the closet of your childhood room. Alone.
Some of us, it seems, don’t know the definition of a boundary. In this context, I would define it as the line where you end and someone else begins. When someone crosses that line you feel it; it is an invasion of privacy which forces you protect yourself while trying your best to remain calm to minimize confrontation.
I have found during my years of practicing therapy that there are two types of major holiday intrusions: those that involve decision-making with your immediate family and family of origin and those that involve probing questions that are no one’s business but your own. Most of us have our own immediate families (your partner and maybe some children). As we grow older, it becomes harder for our family of origin (your parents and siblings) to understand that your decision-making is based on what is best for you and your children and partner, not what is best for the ENTIRE family unit. For example, you live far way. Traveling every year for the holidays can be very costly and stressful, especially with children, pets, gifts, etc. You make a decision to stay home for Thanksgiving because it is what is best for your immediate family. Family of origin does not like this idea and they make their opinion known instead of respecting your decision. For others, there are the times that you are sitting at the table at Christmas dinner and your uncle asks you why you aren’t married at 34. Relatives, of course, don’t mean to pry but the line between appropriate and inappropriate is open to interpretation. Many families have these boundary battles; you are not alone.
When setting boundaries, you can’t worry too much about giving offense, which is the main reason why it is so difficult to set them in the fist place. You must first remember that you have a right to set the boundary! Like most things in life, your family will get over it. It is important to first consider the intentions of said relatives. Are they used to getting their way? Are they trying to pry? Or, are they genuinely concerned about you? Understanding their intention may help you relax and make the inquisition a little less personal. Secondly, keep it simple. You are not obligated to tell your uncle that you ask yourself the same question every night after you’ve watched five shows on your DVR but not before you’ve had two glasses of wine. You may instead say something like, “Thank you for your concern, Uncle Tim. I’m working on it.” Third and most important, be strong in your conviction. If you use your words to set a very clear boundary, one that has no room for misinterpretation, then there is nothing left to talk about or feel sorry. In the case of boundary crossing family of origin, your response may be, “I miss you guys too, but this is what works best for us. Let’s plan a trip to see each other soon.” Enough said. I often allow my clients the opportunity to role play what they might say in these circumstances in order to boost their confidence. You could try doing this in front of a mirror.
From my boundary-less family to yours, Happy Holidays and good luck!
Natalie Nesbitt, MS, LPC, loves working with couples! Helping them find the passion in their relationship; remove blocks that are keeping them from being their best; learning to have a marriage they have only dreamed. Providing personalized couples therapy and life counseling at her private psychotherapy practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania, conveniently located on the Main Line. She has helped countless couples save their marriages and/or relationships and come back from the deepest of betrayals.