The lively, bustling holiday season often brings up questions about "how to set healthy boundaries" with family and friends. These questionsóand the answers to themóare so important, because solid personal boundaries can create the greatest of holidays. The tips and tools offered below will help you add a lasting glow to your holiday gatherings. As an added benefit, the concepts can also be used to improve interactions with family, friends, and co-workers throughout the year!
Healthy boundaries allow us to create and set limits that feel appropriate. Itís important to realize that boundaries are first learned during childhood. If a child grows up feeling understood, valued, and respected, itís likely that healthy boundaries will be learned and utilized throughout life. However, if a child grows up in an environment where disrespect is the norm, itís likely that personal boundaries are poor or nonexistent. Indeed, many children experience at least some emotional abuse during childhood. This often comes in the form of teasing, criticism, sarcasm, threatening behaviors, or other devaluing behaviors. Sadly, such behaviors violate personal boundaries and create long term issues that are all too often carried into adulthood.
On a positive note, adulthood provides plenty of opportunities to learn and develop as never before. If you didnít have healthy boundaries as a child, now is the time to create personal boundaries that are tailor-made for you. Although certain basic boundaries are a given (e.g., keeping marital sexual issues private), other issues may be a matter of personal preference (e.g., discussing employment or vacation plans). That said, itís important for you (and your partner) to be on the same page when it comes to knowing and respecting each otherís boundaries.
Do you ever wonder why so many people fret about "going home for the holidays?" All too often, family troubles result from poor boundaries and the sense of powerlessness that results. No matter the time of year, people tend to regress into old, unhealthy childhood patterns the moment they step back into their parentsí home. Parents, children, and extended family alike tend to revert to the habitual behaviors that were formed long ago. For example, the invasive grandmother, abusive father, withdrawn mother, overpowering elder sister, spoiled younger brother, and bombastic uncle might step back into their customary roles. At any given moment, family members may be feeling ignored, teased, poked, criticized, or badgered. If any of this sounds familiar, you might be tempted to run away from the holidays once again! But, all is not lost! By using the simple tools outlined below, you can create healthier relationships than you might have dreamed possible!
“Healthy boundaries allow us to create and set limits that feel appropriate.”
* Know yourself: Become aware of your boundaries on various issues. It is up to you to know what you find comfortable and what you find invasive. Without judging or blaming yourself, simply acknowledge those issues that tend to set you off. Notice which topics and behaviors tend to trigger you. Once you become aware of these personal "hot spots," you can create clear boundaries with others. For example, if your Uncle Bob continues to tease you as he did when you were younger, you can shift this dynamic as an adult. Instead of stewing in hurt feelings, you can simply say, "Uncle Bob, I feel hurt when you poke at me. Please donít tease me." How Uncle Bob responds to your boundary is up to him. By stating your needs clearly and respectfully, youíve done your part. If Uncle Bob continues his old behaviors, your job is not to engage (see Tip #5, below).
* Value and respect yourself: Your self-esteem will begin to grow as you learn to stand up for yourself. Many people violate otherís boundaries unconsciously. They are often repeating negative behaviors they learned as children. Even as adults, many people are used to pressuring, bullying, and invading otherís boundaries in countless ways. As you set new boundaries, you are modeling self-respect. For example, if your mother pesters you about having kids, you might say, "I feel hurt when you repeatedly ask me when Iíll have kids. Please respect my boundaries on this issue. If and when I ever decide to have a child, I will let you know. Until then, please donít bring it up."
* Understand your needs: As you take the time to understand your boundaries, you will better understand why boundary violations make you feel sad, hurt, and angry. If your need for privacy around parenting issues is high, you will tend to be bothered when questioned about your childbearing situation. If you tend to be highly open about such issues, sharing personal details may not be an issue for you. What feels right for others may not feel right for you; this is absolutely normal. Your personal boundaries are your business.
* Gain support: Talk with your spouse or partner about your boundaries. Take the time to discuss each otherís "hot spots." By doing this, your spouse will know you better and avoid triggering you. As well, your partner can also make certain to support you during social gatherings. When you know that your spouse is your best friend and ally, youíll feel much safer and grounded. You may also want to obtain additional emotional support from a close friend or psychotherapist.
* State your needs with respect and stand your ground: As you set boundaries, others may become irritated, especially if they tend to be insensitive and bullying. The best tactic is to state your boundaries openly, simply, and honestly. If others continue with disrespectful behavior (i.e., boundary violations), you can choose to ignore them, take a break, or leave the gathering altogether. Remember, you can only control your own behavior. You are not responsible for those who choose to engage in negative, disrespectful patterns. Your job is simply to state your boundaries respectfully and clearly. If you are met with negativity, donít engage!
“Remember, you can only control your own behavior. You are not responsible for those who choose to engage in negative, disrespectful patterns.”
* Donít apologize: Many people find themselves apologizing as they set new boundaries. When you set boundaries honestly and respectfully, you donít need to be apologetic. For example, if your parents tend to criticize your child-rearing techniques, you might be tempted to apologize, even when youíve made no errors. As well, if you prefer not to have the input or guidance of others, there is no need to feel contrite. You can simply say, "Mom and Dad, I know you love little Joey and that you mean well. However, John and I work really hard to parent Joey; itís important to us that little Joey not get mixed messages. If we need your guidance, please trust that weíll ask for your input privately. It would be incredibly helpful if you would respect and support our parenting."
* Stay strong, be consistent, and give it time: People donít like change. However, neuroscience tells us that even "old" brains can change; consistency and persistency are your best allies. And, so, whether you are 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond, you have the power the set and enforce your boundaries. As others get used to the "new you," you may need to be very strongóparticularly with those who are stubborn and insensitiveóbut itís well worth the effort.
By using the above tips and tools, youíll be able to face the holidays with a strong and positive attitude. As you become more familiar with creating and implementing your personal boundaries, youíll feel more self-aware and confident than ever. As an added bonus, those around you may find themselves adjusting their own behaviors to create relationships that are increasingly healthy and positive. So, start off the holidays with thoughtful, solid boundaries that you can joyfully carry into the new year, too!
As a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, California, Dr. Carla Marie Manly maintains a focus on helping clients transform their lives and their relationships. Using a body-mind-spirit approach that underscores the importance of overall wellness, Dr. Manly works with her clients on a highly individualized basis to uncover the core concerns that often manifest as psychological, behavioral, and somatic symptoms. Combining traditional depth psychotherapy with somatic therapy, Dr. Manly offers her clients a specialized approach to creating passionate, joy-filled lives. Working in both individual and group settings, she strives to promote change by increasing her clientsí personal self-awareness and insight. †A devoted writer, speaker, and yoga instructor, Dr. Manly is dedicated to helping others create the lives of their dreams.†California License: Psy25539. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com and follow her on Google+.