Olive Von Topp
Holiday Boundaries & How to Set 'Em
Ah yes, the holidays. A time of giving, magic, and doing shit you don’t want to do. For many of us, it is a time of repeat boundary violations. But it doesn’t HAVE to be. We don’t have to put up with the crap we always do or do the thing we always did. We can set boundaries.
Here are a few suggestions to help you be a Boundary Badass this holiday season.
You’re allowed to have boundaries
Boundaries are a way of getting our needs met; of telling someone else what our needs are and how we want to be in relationship with them; a blueprint of what we find acceptable and unacceptable.
Remember, you are allowed to have boundaries. Boundaries are an extremely individual thing and only you get to decide what your boundaries are. They don’t even have to make sense to other people.
They just need to make sense to you.
And guess what? Other people get to have boundaries too, and they don’t have to totally make sense to you either.
There may be all kinds of experiences in your past that have made you question your boundaries or your right to have them. So a lot of the work for you might be in just understanding that you have needs (and they are just as important as anyone else’s) and believing that you have a right to boundaries.
You’re allowed to say no
Similarly, you can just say no to things you don’t want to do. You actually don’t have to explain yourself. Sometimes you may want or choose to, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to justify it. To paraphrase the great Beyonce, you’re a grown ass human and can do whatever you want. Here are a few (non-exhaustive) ways “no” can sound:
Sorry, I don’t have capacity right now
Thank-you for thinking of me, but I have to decline
I’m not buying gifts this year
I don’t want to be part of the gift exchange
I can’t but what I can do is _______
No thanks, I’m not hungry
I won’t be able to this year
I am not comfortable dining with people who are not vaccinated
I understand this may be difficult to hear, but I am not coming home for the holidays
Let go of control
One big thing that will make setting boundaries easier is letting go of control. Control over other people’s reactions, their emotions, their thoughts about you and your boundaries. You can’t control other people. And it should be noted that boundaries aren’t an attempt to control other people’s actions, they are an attempt to let people know what you need. They decide if they want to meet that need. And then you decide if you want to have a relationship with them/how you want it to look.
But you can’t control their emotions. Trying to soften or bend your boundaries to appease other people or try to prevent them from getting upset is, first of all, kind of manipulative if you think about it, secondly a total self-betrayal, and thirdly will drive you nuts.
You can control how YOU react, what YOU say, who has access to YOU, what YOU do with people’s reactions, how YOU engage with people, but you cannot control them or their emotions.
And here’s the thing.
You can’t have boundaries and ensure everyone is happy.
It’s you or them.
And some people will get mad or upset. Especially the people who have benefited from you having porous boundaries, but most of the time, they get over it. And they learn. Your mom might be pissed that you told her she is not welcome to come over unannounced, but eventually, after enough times of you reinforcing the boundary and not answering the door when she shows up, she will stop showing up unannounced.
It might be hard for some people to get that you will not be taking opinions on your love life at the Holiday dinner, and it may feel awkward for you, but eventually they will get there (or you will likely change the way you engage with them).
And the thing is, most people are happy to meet your boundaries. Many of us are delighted to know what people need and how we can give it to them. Some of my best relationships are the ones where I trust the other person to tell me their boundaries or if I upset them. I’m trying this thing where I trust other adults to handle their own emotions, and let me tell you, it is freeing up a lot of space in my anxious little mind.
Can you trust people to manage their own emotions? Even if they don’t like your boundaries or put up a stink, that is for them to deal with, not a sign for you to go back on your boundaries.
Lean into discomfort
Similarly, being able to lean into discomfort is going to help you set boundaries. Know that it might be uncomfortable. It might bring up thoughts you don’t like having. Or feelings you don’t like feeling. Setting boundaries might bring up feelings of guilt or shame or sadness. Be willing to sit with those and don’t take those as reason not to set a boundary. You are capable of sitting with uncomfortable feelings.
It might also be super awkward. Especially if you are new to it. Accept that it might not sound as eloquent as you’d like or you might feel awkward but keep going. Still, those are not reasons to not set a boundary. If it feels awkward with someone after, treat them like you normally would. Don’t give into the weirdness that may or may not be real. It doesn’t need to be more awkward.
After your aunt makes a comment about how much weight you’ve gained or lost and you tell your family that you don’t want to talk about people’s bodies this year, continue on with Christmas dinner like you normally would. Laugh. Eat. Enjoy (if possible) and be prepared to potentially have to restate your boundary if someone makes a comment about some celebrity’s body, etc.
Setting boundaries takes practice. And for many of us, we aren’t even sure where to start. Here’s a simple formula to help you set a boundary.
Boundary Setting Formula:
Identify your need. What is it you need? Do you have a physical need? Emotional? Mental? Time? Sexual? Material? ie. I need to limit the time I am with my family
Visualize having the conversation with impacted parties. You may even want to write down what you want to say. ie, “I know I usually stay over, but this year I will be heading home after dinner.”
Communicate the need. This is where you use words like “I need”, “I want”, “I would like”, “I expect”, “I will”, “I won’t”, “I don’t want”, etc.
Don’t over explain it or over apologize (some say don’t apologize at all)
Set a consequence. This is particularly important if it is a repeat offence. So back to the previous example about your love life (or insert any personal detail of your life you don’t want to discuss). You could say, “I am not open to discussing _____ [personal detail] of my life with you. If you continue to ask, I will leave the table”.
And then DO SAID CONSEQUENCE if they continue to violate your boundary. This is important, or else people will believe you boundaries are porous.
Utilize any resources for self-care. Maybe you bring an ally to dinner, or arrange to hang out with a good friend after, or step away for chunks of time during a visit, or plan to spend quiet time alone after. Whatever helps you feel more grounded and supported in setting your boundaries.
Setting boundaries can take time and practice. It takes willingness to let go of controlling other people’s reactions and willingness to be uncomfortable. But don’t give up, you’ll get there. If you’re looking for support on your boundary journey, check out my upcoming course Boundary Badass, where we deep dive into all these topics and more.
Just remember this holiday season, boundaries are actually an act of love. They tell people how you want to be in relationship with them and that you WANT to be in relationship with them. Boundaries are healthy and you’re allowed to have them. You got this!