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  • Gonzalo Laje

Setting Boundaries for the Holidays


If the radio and TV ads will tell us anything, it’s now the holiday season. Or it has been since August, according to store displays. At the time of writing this, the winter holiday season is now actually in a few weeks. Thanksgiving was just a bit ago. If you celebrated Thanksgiving, I’m sure that there’s a roughly equal chance that you had a wonderful meal and that someone brought up an uncomfortable topic and things got awkward and tense. Of course, there’s a lot going on both domestically and internationally to talk about, but this blog post isn’t to talk about those things. It’s to talk about setting boundaries.


I work predominantly with middle schoolers and high schoolers, and one of the most important things that we try to work on is the ability to say “‘no.” Those two letters are, in my opinion, one of the strongest tools we as a society have. The ability to go, “No, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to talk about this. Leave it alone.” However, like with many other things, saying no is a skill that you have to develop through hard work. Growing up as an ADHDer made saying “no” hard - almost impossible, at times - I was a people-pleaser, and I thought that if someone didn’t like me, it was the end of the world. If one of my jokes didn’t land, it was over.


However, that is part of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria - RSD, and pops up a lot in neurodivergent individuals. The way I best describe it is that whenever someone teases or criticizes me, it feels like I’ve been punched in the chest. A bit of an inelegant metaphor, but it works. Still, how does this tie into the blog post title about boundaries? Ah, thank you for asking.


Setting boundaries can be very difficult - it’s hard to have such conversations with people we care about. Growing up an ADHDer, I always felt that when my boundaries weren’t being honored or respected, it was MY fault. That I wasn’t being accommodating enough. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. When you set a boundary, you bring up your considerations and feelings first. That isn’t being selfish or inconsiderate - it’s being proactive.


Now, how do you do this? If you have children or outside family coming in for the holidays, it can be tricky. But sometimes it’s best to just send an email ahead of time - these conversation topics are off the table. Please respect my boundaries. A common one is also physical touch - your child might not be okay with the aunt or uncle who always goes for the hug. And that’s okay! That’s your child expressing their own boundaries. You don’t need to justify it or excuse it or rationalize it - that’s you looking after the people you love. You can simply help your child say “no,” or plan an alternate greeting that is comfortable for them. You can also try telling people what you or your child needs explicitly, rather than focusing on what you don’t need or want. Part of this involves using “I” messages rather than “You” messages, which helps to defuse blame and reduce the likelihood of defensiveness. If there are just too many invitations, say thank you, but no. If there is an outing you’d prefer not to be part of, it’s okay to decline. If the conversation gets too heavy, change the topic or introduce a distraction. Turn off your phone and disconnect from your social media. You don’t have to be on call all the time.


And, it’s okay to take a break. Set alone time for yourself, and allow your child to go to a safe, quiet place to relax. If weather permits, go for a walk or touch grass. Think about the things that rejuvenate you and make sure you set time for them. Practice your coping strategies so that you can get through the holiday. Talk with your kids to plan what they can do if things get too awkward or uncomfortable. Let their voices be heard, and they’ll keep coming to you for help. One thing I’ve picked up from my own parents is that family and friend gatherings are supposed to be calm, peaceful, and happy. We’re all gathering from all over the country to have a meal together. To catch up. We can catch up while setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves and our children.


I’m not saying to ostracize people who break or cross over boundaries, but maybe it’s more that THEY need to touch grass than you do. Keep yourselves safe out there, people. Have a happy holiday season. And tune in to those around you - they might be trying to set boundaries for themselves as well. Respecting their boundaries will help them respect yours. Have a happy holiday - and do what you can to make it happy instead of uncomfortable.

 


Licensed Master Social Work

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