Setting boundaries can help you navigate your anxiety during the holiday season.
For some, the winter holiday season is a time to reconnect with family members, enjoy each other’s company, and create quality memories for the future. For others, it’s a hard-to-navigate hellscape of conversational landmines and pitfalls, with a trigger around every corner.
I’m not sure when this started exactly, but it seems like the political division in this country has become a catalyst for younger generations standing up for themselves at the dinner table, slightly older generations learning to set boundaries and call out bad behavior, and elder generations being faced with decades of problematic thinking patterns and systems of oppression that are now causing chaos at the dinner table.
The truth is, polite dinner conversation shouldn’t include any of this, but we are past the point of being polite in many instances. So how do you salvage the idea of having a good time with your family, while also being respectful of everyone’s beliefs and values?
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The answer is boundaries. Setting boundaries with family members is the only way to move forward and spend time with each other while steering clear of triggering topics. Here are a few ways to set those boundaries, to make your holiday season a little more relaxed.
Identify Your Needs. Is it important to you to spend time with every family member, or can you maintain a respectful distance from some? Is it important to you to feel seen and heard, or would you rather hold your tongue to keep the peace? Identifying what you want to get out of a family interaction beforehand will help give you a heading.
Prepare Your Responses. Most likely, you know what topics will trigger certain family members, and you probably know what they are going to say in return. If you are going into a difficult conversation, having your responses prepared beforehand will help you navigate.
Clearly Communicate Your Limits. If certain topics are off-limits, communicate that clearly as early as possible.
Be Consistent. If you say you’re not going to talk about certain things, stick to that, no matter how much your family members goad you, or try to trigger you into responding.
Learn to Say No. The word NO holds a lot of power. Learn to say it simply, without emotion. It is the most powerful tool you have in terms of setting boundaries.
Excuse Yourself if Necessary. If a conversation is going south, excuse yourself before you say something below the belt. Removing yourself from a situation is the best way to avoid a blowout. Think of it as if your family is throwing dodgeballs at you. In this metaphor, the dodgeballs are just energy. You can choose what you catch, what you throw back, and what you let fall to the floor.
Setting boundaries with family members is a valuable way to respect the opinions and morals of your family, but I would go so far to say that it is mandatory for your own mental health. Especially during the holidays.