It’s that time of year again. The holiday party invitations are rolling in. Target is decking the halls. And all those online card services are emailing you about getting your cards made. The pressure is mounting and it already feels like your boundaries are getting trampled.
Whether it’s the gift giving, the endless requests for making cookies, or that dreaded family gathering, the “happiest time of the year” really triggers your buttons. You find yourself feeling frustrated, resentful, and downright pissed off. You kind of want to hide in a hole and not come out until January.
But, even though you know you don’t want to participate in the ways that are expected of you, some weird part of you says yes, anyway.
And another year passes where you feel like you need a vacation from the demands of the holiday season.
I can COMPLETELY relate.
I used to try to be all the things to all the people during the holidays, too. Every time I made a choice that went against what the crowd wanted, I could feel the disappointed fingers pointing at me. So, I just didn’t allow what I wanted to be a part of the holidays.
Honestly, the holidays were just an amplification of how I ran my life in general.
These days, I decide, in advance, what I want my holidays to be (aka I define my boundaries), and make choices that are in alignment with that vision.
That means that I say no to parties I don’t actually want to go to. I buy the gifts I want to buy. And contribute in the ways that feel genuine and authentic to me.
Yes, folks might have some feelings about that. They might not like it. They might think I’m selfish. Or that I’m an asshole. Or that I’m a total scrooge.
But, what I know now, is that other people’s feelings really ARE about them. And I can’t take responsibility for their life and mine at the same time.
I choose to take responsibility for my life because that’s really the only way to ever really feel empowered.
So, in my post today, I want to share with you some things I’d tell my younger – people pleasing codependent – self about boundaries and the holidays. Let’s jump in.
1. Decide, in advance, what is most important to you during the holidays.
What a lot of folks don’t understand about boundaries is that boundaries aren’t defenses. Boundaries are DEFINITIONS. More specifically, your boundaries define what is important to you and how you will show up in the world (independent of how others show up).
Let’s say that staying out of debt is important to you. In that case, the boundary is not spending money that will put you in debt.
During the holidays, that might mean you have a budget that you stick to that is within your actual means. Perhaps there is an unspoken tradition in your family where each person spends X amount of dollars on everyone. When you do the math, you realize that you’d have to go into debt to spend that much.
So, since it’s YOUR job to honor your boundaries, you choose the amount that works for your budget.
If you don’t decide in advance, you’ll find yourself in “sticky” situations where other folks are projecting their values onto you and, as humans do, you might freak out and just go along with them.
But, if you’ve decided in advance, you will anticipate those sticky situations and know how to navigate them.
2. Remember that no is a complete sentence.
This can be a tough one because, in our culture, where we are conditioned to sacrifice ourselves for others and there is often an unspoken expectation that saying no means you better have a good reason. This little energetic agreement does one of two things 1) it convinces us that we need to say yes 2) when we do say no, we follow up with all these reasons why we are saying no 3) lie. And, in a lot of cases, the expectation to say yes ends in a combination of all three.
The truth is, though, that you can say no just because you don’t want to do whatever the thing is.
Don’t want to bake 7 bazillion cookies by tomorrow at noon?
Don’t want to go to the office holiday party?
Don’t want to wear the ugly Christmas sweater?
Don’t want to attend the family dinner?
Not wanting to is enough. Always.
No is a complete sentence.
3. Let other people feel how they feel.
We live in a culture that has taught us to be codependent. Meaning, we are trapped in unhealthy cycles with other people where we make them responsible for our feelings and we think we are responsible for theirs.
When your mom isn’t happy because you don’t want to go Black Friday shopping, you internalize that to mean that saying no is wrong or makes you a bad daughter. You think it’s your job to make your mom happy. So, you say yes. You go anyway.
Thing is, though, your mom is upset because of what she makes it mean that you’ve said no. She makes it mean you don’t love her, or that she must have been a bad mother because people like spending time with their good mothers.
It’s an unhealthy cycle that just goes round and round. And here’s why:
Your feelings are for your growth and evolution. And her feelings are for her growth and evolution.
If you try to take them away from her, you are actually doing her a disserve.
And, at the end of the day, you can’t heal her shit for her. Only she can.
If you say yes, you haven’t actually healed her pain. You’ve helped her ignore and bypass it. It’s still there, simmering under the surface, and it is going to come right back next time you or one of your siblings says no.
See what I mean? It’s very disempowering for everyone involved.
You can only heal what you feel. So, let ’em feel how they feel (and you do the same).
4. You don’t have to be defensive.
I work with a lot of folks who have “boundary issues” and rightly so, they feel pissed off, resentful, and angry a lot of the time.
That’s because anger is the emotion that shows up when something is happening that doesn’t work for us. It alerts us to our boundaries and shows us how to shore them up.
For a lot of folks, it’s a total revelation that they feel angry because of their boundaries. The anger actually starts to feel powerful and they start to outwardly express that anger.
But, as with all emotions, we reconcile them internally, not externally. So, yelling, hitting, screaming, or being unkind because you are pissed off doesn’t actually do anything for the boundary. In most cases, it just fuels the anger even more, especially if others don’t do what you want them to do.
The thing to remember here, though, is that your boundaries are your responsibility. Which means that when you feel pissed off, the task is to see what YOU need to do to reconcile the boundary, independent of what the other person does.
By being defensive, you are projecting your anger and making it their issue.
But, as I said, your boundaries are about how you show up, no matter how others are showing up.
So, if you notice yourself feeling defensive when it’s time to set and honor your boundaries, take a moment to check in and see where you might be projecting your anger instead of actually reconciling it.
5. Don’t expect yourself to do it perfectly.
So, the reason people come to me with boundary issues is that I’m no stranger to having boundary issues. And I can definitely personally relate to want to come out guns blazing when I recognize a boundary issue.
In fact, when I first learned that boundaries were even a thing, I was on the warpath. Blazing boundaries everywhere I looked.
But, eventually, I realized that that approach wasn’t really working, either. I wasn’t feeling any better (because I was still projecting my anger vs. reconciling it) and it was starting to really interfere in my relationships.
What I’ve noticed over time is that this seems to be a natural progression. In all things, we tend to swing the pendulum to the opposite side of the spectrum. And, as in all things, there is usually a shade of grey that will be more effective.
So, as you practice your boundaries, do offer yourself some grace. You won’t get it perfectly right out of the gate. But, you will learn and you will grow.
I totally understand how hard it can be to set boundaries, especially around the holidays. I often wish I had known these things years ago. But, I know them now, and by practicing these things, I am really looking forward to a holiday season that feels joyful and nourishing, instead of stressful.
As we move into the holiday season, I hope that you will remember these things and begin applying them to your life. I hope that you will set and honor your boundaries in a way that feels good for you. And that, as a result, your holiday season will be fulfilling and satisfying, whatever that means to you.