3 Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries with Family During Holidays

If your big wish this year is to figure out how to set healthy boundaries with family during holidays and seasonal get-togethers, you’re not alone. For many, the holidays come with as much stress as they do joy, especially regarding family. And for those in recovery, family drama or overbearing loved ones may present added challenges. But what if there was a better way?

Setting boundaries is essential for dealing with family holiday stress and a good reminder that while we can’t control other people, we can control how they make us feel. However, it can be uncomfortable, particularly if you’re not used to doing it. Practice makes perfect, though; the more you prioritize your needs over the comfort of others, the easier it will get to speak up for yourself. 

As for where to start, here are three tips for how to deal with difficult family during the holidays and put healthy boundaries in place – plus what to do if you receive pushback. 

Helpful Tips for Setting Holiday Boundaries

Setting holiday boundaries is challenging but worth it. Ultimately, you’re the only one responsible for protecting your peace of mind and the only one with the power to do it. So not only should you not feel guilty for setting boundaries with family members, but you should also be proud of yourself for doing so. 

With that in mind, here’s how to find – and protect – your joy during the holidays and beyond. 

1. Practice Saying “No” as a Complete Sentence

Invited to a holiday gathering that you’d rather not attend? Learn to say “no” and mean it instead of letting guilt from others guide your holiday choices. 

Not only is it okay not to go home for the holidays or engage in anything else that will cause you undue stress, but it’s also okay to say “no” without tacking on an excuse. If someone responds with resentment, that’s their problem, not yours. 

2. Use “I” Statements

One easy trick for setting boundaries and coping with stress during the holidays is to take ownership of your needs rather than putting others on the defensive. And to do that, you can practice what psychologist Thomas Gordon coined as “I” statements: “I feel [blank] when [blank] because [blank]..”

For example, let’s say your brother brings up something uncomfortable at the dinner table, stressing you out. Calmly say, “I feel stressed when we talk about this at dinner because I’m just trying to relax.” If you’d like, you can follow it up with an alternative: “Let’s talk about everyone’s upcoming travel plans instead.”

3. Take Time for Yourself

Sometimes, the best way to set boundaries is to remove yourself from a situation entirely – and that’s okay! Do what you need to recharge during holiday chaos, whether that’s dipping out to take the dog for a leisurely walk, setting aside time during a visit home to meet up with friends, or opting for a solo movie night in lieu of another extended family meal. 

Remember: setting boundaries is about prioritizing your needs, not others’ comfort. If that requires time alone or with non-family members, then that’s what you should do. 

What If Family Members Push Back?

Holding strong to your boundaries can be as complicated as setting them in the first place. It’s normal for family members to try to push back and lay on the guilt, particularly if they’re feeling frustrated or disappointed by what you’re saying. Stay strong and maintain your boundaries by following one or more of these additional tips.

  • Be prepared – Before stating a boundary, consider the negative response you might get, such as anger, sadness, or dismissal. Then come up with a plan for how you’ll respond. If you go in prepared and with realistic expectations, you’ll be better able to stand firm in the face of a fallout. 
  • Be kind about it – Acknowledge that what you’re saying might not be what the other person wants to hear and that you respect that and aren’t trying to hurt them. 
  • Offer another option – If you can offer an alternative, go for it. For example: “I can’t host this year, but I’m happy to cook a couple of dishes!”
  • Believe in your boundaries – The more you honor your boundaries, the easier it will be to maintain them. When in doubt, remind yourself that you’re setting boundaries for a reason and have nothing to feel wrong about. 

Setting boundaries with family during holidays is tough, but you can do it. Wishing you joyful days ahead and the power to prioritize your needs this holiday season! 

Retreat Behavioral Health is a respected provider of behavioral and mental health services specializing in substance use recovery. Find inpatient and outpatient locations in Connecticut, Florida, and Pennsylvania.