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How to Set boundaries with Family

by | Dec 27, 2021 | Holidays, Relationships

Forward, Together with western tidewater community services board

This blog post was written by Michelle McCarthy LPC, NCC, CCTP, Suffolk Outpatient Clinic Supervisor

Is it ok to set boundaries with close friends and family?

Though the holidays can bring joy, excitement, and a sense of rest for some, many of us find ourselves increasingly stressed and stretched thin over the holiday season. Holidays often come with expectations and pressures from others, especially from family and close friends.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to navigate these pressures, it may be time to reevaluate the boundaries that have or have not been set with family members and friends. 

How do I start to set boundaries with close friends and family?

Below you will find some simple steps to help you begin the process of setting healthier boundaries with others.  

1. Prioritize self-care 

Setting boundaries with loved ones is tough. There is an emotional, physical, and mental toll this process can take. Family and friends will often disagree with your boundary setting and pressure you to let them cross your boundary lines. If you do not take care of yourself, you will be unable to set and maintain firm boundary lines with others.

Take time for self-care throughout this process. Taking a walk, listening to music, watching a light-hearted movie, taking a warm bath, or spending time writing out your thoughts are all simple ways to practice self-care. Identify what helps you feel calm and set aside time for those things. 

Related: Don’t know how to spot a toxic relationship? Here are some signs.

2. Make a plan 

If spending time with loved ones who challenge your personal boundaries is inevitable, it is important to plan ahead in order to set and maintain healthy boundaries with them. Practical plans such as setting a limit for how long to stay, deciding who you are comfortable sitting with, and pre-planning discussion topics that avoid triggers are important, but it is also important to plan ahead in other ways.

Consider how to communicate your needs and boundaries prior to get togethers. Plan ahead regarding ways to respond if your boundaries are not taken seriously. Set aside intentional time throughout gatherings to practice self-care. It is imperative to think ahead as you consider the need to prioritize healthy boundaries with others. 

3. Identify the boundary lines 

What triggers you when you are with friends and family? Are there topics that make you uncomfortable or trigger anxiety? Do you have different boundaries for physical contact than some of your loved ones? You get to decide what is and is not permissible when engaging with others. No one possesses a free pass to cross your boundary lines.

At the same time, no one knows if they are crossing those lines if you do not identify and clearly communicate what those boundaries are. Speak up to your loved ones and make clear to them what is and is not acceptable. Then let them know what will happen if your boundaries are not respected. 

Ultimately, you need to be prepared to remove yourself from the company of someone who refuses to respect your boundaries. 

4. Make your own choices 

It may feel as though you have little or no control over how you celebrate, where you go, and who you spend the holidays with. However, it is important to consider there may be more choices in your control than it seems.

When considering how to spend the holidays, explore all the options you can think of and try to make choices based on what would lead to the healthiest outcomes for you, not what would make family or friends most content. Keep in mind that some of the healthiest decisions for yourself may be the decisions that make loved ones the most upset or uncomfortable.  

5. Identify and lean on supports 

You do not have to do this on your own. Support can be found in many ways and through a variety of means. Family is not always a healthy support system and, especially in this current COVID era, making social connections can be difficult. However, help can always be found.

Reach out to a trusted friend, identify local community resources, consider a support group, and seek professional help. Most importantly, do not wait until the pressure becomes too much to bear. If you or someone you love are in need of extra support, begin the process of obtaining extra support now.  

Need more help?

It may not be easy, simple, or even comfortable to set and maintain boundaries with others yet it is important to consider the importance of doing so. Remember, by prioritizing your own needs you are not only practicing vital self-care and self-love, but you are also setting yourself up to be better able to love and care for those around you. 

If you have tried and failed to set healthy boundaries, or if you feel like you are stick in a toxic relationship cycle and need someone to talk to, schedule an appointment with one of your therapists.

This holiday season, begin a new tradition and begin the process of setting up healthier boundaries with those around you. The hardest changes to make often yield the greatest benefit.

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