Setting Boundaries During a Complicated Holiday Season

Usually around this time of year, we return to the discussion about setting boundaries. Under normal circumstances, the end of the year is a time for holiday celebrations that bring many of us together with friends and family. It’s a time that can be fraught for everyone, not just survivors, and we know that a regular review of how to set and communicate boundaries with our loved ones is helpful in navigating situations of family obligation.

But 2020 isn’t normal for any of us. Instead of the usual family tensions and expectations, we are coping with the added layers of a pandemic raging out of control and the aftermath of the biggest election of most people’s lives.

You may find it more difficult than usual to hold your boundaries in this environment. Previously successful strategies like agreeing to leave politics at the door, or compromising on specific details of holiday celebrations, may not be as effective as usual. The chronic stress of coping with everything that has happened in 2020 also means that your emotional energy reserves are low. You may find that discussions that were once difficult are now impossible.

You may experience heightened hostility, belittling, dismissal, and gaslighting when you try to communicate your boundaries. These behaviors feel especially violating because they can make you doubt your own decision-making. With so many conspiracy theories and so much disinformation out there for us to filter, we may feel more vulnerable to self-doubt, and that can make it much harder to stand firm on our boundaries. So it’s important to be prepared.

Even though the situations we’re facing this year are more complex than usual, the skills we can use to navigate them remain the same.

  1. Talk to a supportive person before having a big boundary-setting conversation. Accept reassurance and validation from that person that you have the right to set your boundary and that you are not over-reacting.
  2. Have the facts close at hand during the conversation. The point is not to expend the emotional effort of trying to change the other person’s mind. Rather, it is to provide you with concrete reminders to yourself that your concerns are valid and your boundary is necessary to protect your safety.
  3. Plan what you will say ahead of time. When someone starts attacking a decision we’ve made it can make us feel obligated to explain ourselves, and draw us into a debate when, in fact, our decision isn’t up for discussion. Have a simple, straightforward response such as “I’m not comfortable with that”, that you can repeat to help stop yourself from getting drawn into debate.
  4. Know when to cut off the discussion. Repetition can be helpful for you, but you also do not have to say “no” more than once. If the person keeps pressuring you to change your mind, you are allowed to simply end the conversation. It can be helpful to have this response prepared ahead of time too, like “I understand you are disappointed, but this is what’s best for me”.

You have already shown remarkable resilience to make it through this year. You deserve a quiet and restful holiday season with the ones you love most, celebrating in whatever ways make you feel safe and loved.

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