Christmas is very definitely here. Festive adverts are dominating the airwaves. While some capture the challenging times we are living through, a common theme is the joy of community. For most of us, though, it’s not that simple.
Christmas can be challenging. From loneliness and isolation to feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of family demands, it rarely matches the fantasy. My clients talk about the intense pressure to spend time with their wider family, to cater for everyone despite the challenge of children and full-time work, the complexities of navigating blended families. They talk about the emotional cost of papering over cracks in difficult relationships with parents, children and siblings. Some fear losing the stabilising effect of work over the festive period. Others have no escape from conflict in the home and for many, it brings back difficult memories from childhood.
Navigating these complexities is not easy, but one of the most important things you can do is define and stick to your boundaries.
Personal boundaries are the limits of what’s okay and what’s not. A bit of bend and flex is a good thing. Afterall, good relationships involve some give and take. But if we don’t know what our boundaries are or, for one reason or another, believe they are not valid, we’re likely to contort ourselves, to make sacrifices to suit everyone else. As I know well, the result can be exhaustion and resentment – not the ingredients of a happy Christmas.
Bedding in our boundaries so they become second nature is hard work, but there are steps you can take this Christmas to get started.
1. Define your boundaries. Take some time out to reflect on what’s okay for you this Christmas and what isn’t. They will be different for everyone and if you think you ‘should’ do something, it’s probably not okay for you. Some questions that might help include:
Who do you want to see and spend time with this Christmas?
How much time do you need for yourself and what does it look like?
What contribution do you have the energy and resources to offer?
What help do you need?
What will bring you joy?
What will bring you stress and distress?
2. Practice. If asserting your boundaries is difficult, practice telling people on your own or with a trusted friend. And say it out loud, not just in your mind. You might feel uncomfortable but it’s much more likely to help you embody the feeling that your boundaries matter.
3. Communicate your boundaries to the people who need to know, clearly and simply. Don’t apologise for them or offer justifications. Some negotiation may be necessary when it comes to the details, but they are necessary for your wellbeing and so legitimate.
4. Be up front. People are much more likely to respect your boundaries if they know about them in advance. But if they feel caught out at the last minute, they may cajole and entreat you to bend and give way.
5. Be consistent throughout the festive period. Give way ‘just this once’ and you’ll quickly find it’s the norm.
6. Stand your ground. Don’t give in when you’re pushed. You’re not responsible for the other person’s response. Whether they beg, threaten or guilt trip you, stay calm and don’t give way.
7. Get your team onside. Enlist the support of the people who understand and support your perspective. If they can’t be there in the moment, picture them with you. Imagine them giving you the encouragement and support you need to stick to your boundaries. You’ll be surprised by the added strength this gives you.
8. Mutual respect. Respect your own boundaries and others are more likely to respect them too. In turn, it’s important to respect the boundaries of others.
If you want to explore this further, email me and we can chat.