Happy Holidays: How to set healthy boundaries with your family
May 7th, 2021 at 8:37 am
The holidays are coming up and traditionally, it’s a much-anticipated time to get together with loved ones and enjoy a hearty meal, but it can still be physically and emotionally taxing. From hosting gatherings and visiting family, to backhanded compliments, passive-aggressive comments and political debates, these stressors and challenges can leave us feeling exhausted by the end of the holiday season.
Instead of spending your holidays in a state of discomfort this year, Jade Goh, a junior associate mental health practitioner at The Mind Faculty’s TMF Academy, shares her professional advice on setting healthy boundaries with your family for a happier holiday.
Why must we set boundaries?
“Boundaries are important because they protect our time, our energy and our resources. They teach people how they can and can’t treat us. They also teach us how we should and shouldn’t treat ourselves. For example, look at the boundaries you’ve set with how you allow people to talk to you. Do you allow them to discuss your body image? Does this make you feel comfortable or does it affect how you view yourself? Is it okay for you to feel bad about yourself so long as you are not upsetting someone else?”
How can we set boundaries with hurting anyone’s feelings?
“In Asian cultures, we are taught to conflate love with sacrifice and obedience. For example, “After how much we’ve paid for your education, you treat us this way”. Consequently, when we set boundaries with our family members, it is very common for someone’s feelings to be hurt as they may construe this as you not loving them. When setting boundaries, acknowledge the effort that your parents have made and remind them that you love them. For example, “I am so grateful for the opportunities you’ve given me and I do love you very much. However, it is important to me that I spend time with my friends to take care of my mental health. Let’s plan a family lunch on Sunday”.”
How can we set effective boundaries?
“Effective boundaries are kind and firm. When you set a boundary, be prepared to follow through. For example., “I’m not comfortable with you talking about my weight. Can we please discuss something else?”. If your boundary is violated, remove yourself from the situation. If the person doesn’t respect your boundary – an example of this is calling you rude for walking away – re-state your boundary kindly and firm. “As I said, this conversation makes me feel uncomfortable. While I can’t stop you from discussing my body, I need to take care of myself”.”
What if we feel guilty for setting boundaries?
“When we first set boundaries, we may feel guilty because we feel that we have to show love or care in a certain way. For example, choosing a career your parents want or spending all your free time with your parents. However, ‘love’ becomes an obligation and we may feel resentful or drained. When we set boundaries around our time, resources and energy, this allows us to better show up for our relationships because we are making a choice to be there. For example, taking the initiative to plan a family board game night instead of feeling obligated to have dinner with them every night. Consequently, we’ll be more present and more engaged in our relationships.
If your family members try to guilt you, they are trying to make you responsible for their feelings. For example, “If you don’t show up for dinner, your mum will be upset”. It’s important to remember that the only feelings you are responsible for are your own. It’s great that your mum misses you, but she is also making a choice to be upset about your attendance. If you do show up for dinner, she may be mollified for the time-being. If you don’t show up for dinner tomorrow, she’ll be upset. Over time, you may feel resentful if you have to give up the things you want to do to manage your parents’ emotions. You may lash out or withdraw from them. This does not build your relationship in the long-run.
So even if you feel guilty or you feel ‘guilted’, remind yourself that you are drawing boundaries so you can better show up for your loved ones.”
When should we set boundaries?
“Set boundaries if your relationship makes you feel:
- Bad about yourself.
- Unable to express what you want.
- Like you’re walking on eggshells.”
What should we do if our boundaries are disrespected?
“Follow through with the boundary you set. Remove yourself from the situation if you can or withdraw from the relationship until the person respects the boundary that you set.”
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