Terri K. Lankford, LPCS
Putting the Fun in dysFUNctional Families
As November draws to a close, you’ve likely navigated one holiday already: Thanksgiving (that is, if you choose to celebrate). You may think holidays are totally stress free - and that’s great! Or, like 69% of Americans, you may feel totally stressed out during the holiday times. Many folx are so stressed out by holidays that they’d rather just skip Christmas or other winter holidays altogether - with 45% of Americans saying they’d prefer to ignore Christmas entirely due to the stress it brings.
While cooking, cleaning, and gift-buying are all sources of stress, spending time with family can be one of our biggest stressors. Ending up with incessant questions about your life or hot topics coming up.. you know, politics, religion, vaccines, etc, the winter season tends to bring family - and family conflict - to the forefront.
Why can family-time be so stressful during the holidays? Feeling the pressure of obligations or expectations, dealing with long distance travel, or being in a families that has experienced loss, particularly around the holidays, is a mental burden added to our everyday load. Some families who have gone through other types of relationship loss, like divorce, may be thinking about how their life has changed. Many families may also have sore spots that are highlighted during the holidays - such as kids at college who don’t come home, conflict over a limited amount of time between multiple family households, financial restraints, and more.
Before the upcoming holidays begin, take a moment to establish your boundaries with yourself. This is the first step in being able to communicate your boundaries with your family members when the time comes. Need help on getting clarity about your boundaries? Check out three tips below from the counselors at Rise and Thrive on clarifying your boundaries!
Know Your Values
The first step in knowing your boundaries is knowing your values. How will you know what you will and will not tolerate if you don’t have a firm foundation?
One way to identify your values is to use a values list, like this one. You can go through a list of common core values and highlight, circle, or put a check next to any one that stands out to you. Try to make this based on your feelings - if you see a word and it feels right, it may be one of your values!
Another way to identify your values is to think about your core memories. Do you have any memories of being especially happy, scared, offended, or proud? These may be hints about your values. For example, if you remember feeling especially proud when you volunteered last Christmas, then charity may be a value of yours.
And chat about it with your therapist! Values work can be tough to identify and gaining outside support can be extremely advantageous.
Form Solid, Clear Boundaries
After you have a good idea of your values, you can translate these into boundaries. While telling your family member, “I value keeping my autonomy” is not a boundary, saying “I’ll bring my own car to the family function because if I’m uncomfortable I will choose to leave” is a boundary.
Need ideas on more examples? Use these tips from Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist and author!
“When I come to visit, I’ll be staying in a hotel.”
“I don’t want to talk about hot-button issues. Let’s change the subject.”
“We’d like to get together the week before the holiday and have the actual holiday at home.”
“I prefer to pull names rather than buying multiple gifts.”
Please note, all of these boundary-establishing phrases are from Nedra Glover Tawwab’s Instagram post found here; all credit for these statements goes to her!
Feel Comfortable with Discomfort
Finally, be prepared to feel uncomfortable. (I know, I know... Nobody particularly loves this one.)
If you know your family or friends have a habit of testing boundaries, you may need to be prepared to enforce them (which we’ll talk about in an upcoming part of the Your Family and the Holidays series!). Prepare now for some discomfort as you communicate, enforce, and follow through with your boundary-setting if needed.
We hope these tips provided you with some valuable information about navigating the holidays with your family through boundary setting! At Rise and Thrive, our holistic counselors are experts at boundary setting. We’d love to support you to get you ready to enforce those boundaries! Reach out today; we look forward to hearing from you!