A Therapist Explains How To Maintain Boundaries With Your Family
So here you are, ready to celebrate the holidays, but all you can think about is how difficult it will be around your family. From their intrusive questions to their demands on your time, being around your family for the holidays isn't always easy. Even if you love them, family members can be a handful, from your unaccepting grandmother to your cousin who blows up on everyone.
But you can make this holiday different by creating boundaries with your family. Here's how to keep a good relationship with your family while not allowing them to zap your energy.
Why you need boundaries with your family.
We teach people how to treat us. We do this by allowing people to behave or act a certain way toward us. We let them know what is acceptable and unacceptable to us. Think of boundaries as invisible walls we establish with others to keep us safe and protected. If you don't have boundaries, then you are susceptible to being treated however someone else wishes to treat you.
Even if you have healthy boundaries with your friends, relationships, and at work, you still may struggle with your family. But just like with anyone else, we are responsible for creating boundaries with our family that work for us. If you decide to blow off boundaries with your family, you are allowing them to take all of your emotional energy, which will leave you frustrated and irritated during the holidays.
For example, during the holidays, if your aunt continues to ask you multiple times why you aren't in a relationship or married yet, you need to set a boundary. You can tell her that you don't want to discuss this and ask her to stop speaking about it. If you struggle with being direct, try using humor by telling her that if you find yourself in a relationship, she'll be the first to know.
Why it's sometimes difficult to create boundaries with family members.
There are many reasons you may be struggling to create boundaries, especially with your family. Your family may have poor boundaries, which means that family members don't say no when they need to, don't accept each other's no's, struggle to speak up for their individual needs, or have difficulty with codependency.
You may be a passive person who often doesn't speak up for your needs, which makes it difficult to stand up to another person, especially a family member. You may fear that you are being rude or will upset them. However, if you continue not to create boundaries, you are paying the price by not enjoying your time with them.
You may be assertive in other areas of your life but struggle to share your needs with a particular family member. You may fear they will be aggressive, unreasonable, or dismiss your need because of your past experiences with this person. The main difficulty comes when you create a boundary, and they don't respect it. You need to remember that you are responsible for creating a healthy relationship with yourself, which requires limits.
How to create and maintain boundaries.
Start by writing out your needs from your family. Think about what you need from them during the upcoming holiday. For example, you don't want your dad to ask you for the 10th time when you are going to get a better job.
After you have written out your needs list, prioritize your top three needs from your family. Start with the first one and write out what you can do now, before the holiday, to work on this boundary. For example, consider calling or texting your dad to let him know you don't wish to discuss work during the holiday. Start by telling him that you are looking forward to seeing him but need him to help you out by not bringing up work.
Go through your next two needs and start working on boundaries now. If any of these require you to create the boundary in person, then think about what you will say that addresses your need. Remember that creating a boundary doesn't mean that they will respect it, so you'll also need to identify what you will do if they don't listen to your boundary. You may need to excuse yourself from a conversation or leave the room and take a walk.
Your ability to create and maintain boundaries is essential if you want to enjoy the holiday with your family. You don't have to apologize or expect less because you have a need. Visualize how good it will feel to establish and maintain your boundaries. If you don't, you will find yourself feeling resentful and frustrated at yourself for not taking steps to create the relationship you desire with your family.
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling, coaching, training, speaking, and consulting services throughout the United States.
Overstreet holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology and a master's degree in Professional Counseling. Known as the real-world relationship expert, she teaches people to improve their connection with themselves and others. She has given a TEDx talk on healthcare and also serves as a national contributor to CNN, Psychology Today, Readers Digest, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and various other media.