Communication, Communication, Communication
In our previous blog post, we talked about the importance of doing the inner-work of boundary setting: that is, knowing your values, being able to format a solid boundary, and being willing to tolerate discomfort. We also talked about the importance of being able to set a strong boundary during the holidays, particularly when family is in town and we are plunged into our family of origin dynamics (whether that be a positive or negative thing for you!). Now that you’ve identified your boundaries … what’s next?
Next is communicating your boundaries. Unfortunately, communication can be a problem for many, many American families. The effects of poor communication can include deterioration of family ties, isolation, mistrust, and the feeling of being emotionally abandoned. Good communication allows us to solve problems, share our feelings, dispel untruths, and more. Clearly, there’s a lot to be said about having good communication skills!
Now that you know how to do the inner-work of boundary setting, how do you let others know about your boundaries? Check out these three tips, courtesy of Rise and Thrive Counseling!
Use Clear, Certain Terms
When you communicate a boundary to another person, leave any guesswork out of it. That is, you should be able to tell the other person clearly:
What behavior you will not/do not tolerate
How the behavior makes you feel
The consequence of doing that behavior
For example, a poorly communicated boundary may look like this:
Your uncle hugs you at a Christmas party, and you reluctantly hug him back. Since you feel uncomfortable with hugs, you decide to spend the rest of the Christmas party just avoiding him. You tell everyone but your uncle that you hate hugs and now you’re upset because your uncle hugged you.
A well communicated boundary looks like:
Your uncle goes to hug you at a Christmas party, and you politely decline. You directly tell him “It’s so nice to see you, but I don’t feel comfortable with hugs.” If your uncle insists on a hug, you can say in a more firm manner, “I’m not comfortable with hugs because they make me feel like my space is invaded. I’d rather not revisit this, and if we do I’ll leave the room.”
See the difference? In scenario one, you give up your boundary by hugging him although you don’t want to, then never tell him how it made you feel. In scenario two, you enforce your boundary by not hugging him and telling him that’s your final answer.
Use “I” Statements
If you’ve ever done couple’s or family counseling before, you likely know about I statements. I statements show we recognize we can only control our own actions. They also help communicate how the actions of others make us feel; while others can tell us we took something the wrong way (argue their intent), it’s hard to argue with someone about how they feel!
I statements should be formatted as “I feel X when Y happens, and if Y happens, I will do Z.”
I feel uncomfortable when we talk about this issue; if we continue talking about it, I’ll take some time for myself.
I feel overwhelmed when we go shopping in big crowds; if you’re going shopping, I would prefer to stay home.
I feel angry when my personal space is invaded; if my personal space is invaded, I will make space myself.
I feel disrespected when I am misgendered; if I am misgendered, I will correct you with my proper pronouns.
Notice how all these statements focused on yourself, instead of another person? While “you make me feel uncomfortable when you hug me” feels aggressive, “I feel discomfort when hugged” may feel more acceptable to family members.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reiterate
For those of us with family who tend to test boundaries, reiteration is a must. We’ll talk more about the actual enforcement of boundaries in our next section, but part of communication is re-communication. It’s highly likely you’ll have to remind family and friends of your boundaries, and that’s okay! When a boundary is crossed continuously, though, it’s time to have a more serious conversation.
We hope these tips provided you with some valuable information about navigating the holidays with your family through communicating your boundaries! At Rise and Thrive, our holistic counselors are experts at communication. We’d love to support you to get you ready to enforce those boundaries! Reach out today; we look forward to hearing from you!