If you are somebody who knows your healthy boundaries and how to set them, this holiday season will be no problem. But for anyone not so comfortable with setting their healthy boundaries, it can be a terrible period.
For those people who really have no idea of what their healthy boundaries are, it is most likely the worst time of the year. It means that every gathering, party and even Christmas Day itself can be like the worst nightmare.
But thankfully there are some simple methods to keep in mind that can make it much easier to have healthy boundaries. There are also some things to know in advance and do that will make it much easier too.
What is a healthy boundary?
A healthy boundary can be defined as having a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass. It is knowing what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to you – and not anyone else – and then being able to enforce that.
Bestselling author and researcher Brené Brown gives an excellent definition of a healthy boundary. “A boundary is simply what is okay and what is not okay,” she says. “If we don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that are not okay or get away with behaviors that are not okay. Then we are just resentful or hateful.
“The moment someone asks you to do something you do not have the time or inclination to do is fraught with vulnerability. ‘Yes!’ often seems like the easiest way out. But it comes at a price: I cannot tell you how many times I have said ‘Sure!’ in my squeaky, I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this voice, only to spend hours, even months, feeling angry and resentful.”
How are healthy boundaries challenged?
In today’s modern busy world our healthy boundaries are challenged more than ever before in history. This is because there are more people on the planet and so increased interaction with others.
This interaction takes place not only face to face as it would have mostly done, aside from letters, until the telephone was invented in the late 19th Century. But today we are likely to have daily contact with other people through video-calls, emails, text messages, social media and much more frequently on the phone too as most of us carry one on our person.
So this means our healthy boundaries can be crossed or challenged in many ways on many occasions. They can be crossed in a verbal way such as being gossiped about, lied to, spoken to without any respect, or shouted at angrily. In addition though it could be when you speak you are ignored or ridiculed, and it can also be when you are not permitted to or given the opportunity to speak.
Consider also if someone threatens you, touches you or an item of yours without your consent, or gets in your personal space. Also, if a person attempts to entangle you in a guilt trap, manipulates, embarrasses or bullies you – these are all challenges to a healthy boundary. With such as social media, many of these things such as gossip or the text equivalent of being shouted at can also be delivered in other ways than verbally.
Protecting healthy boundaries
One of the key things to remember about protecting our healthy boundaries is that we really need to do this – or we end up resenting not only the person who has crossed the line but ourselves too for not standing up for ourselves. For instance, when we say “yes” when we really want to say “no”.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others,” says Brené Brown. “We cannot base our own worthiness on other people’s approval… Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say ‘Enough!’
Frequently we will find that saying “enough” or “no” to someone else arrives with a choice. It often means that we have to decide whether we want to be liked or respected.
Naturally, most people prefer to be liked and respected. But when it comes to protecting and keeping our healthy boundaries we very often need to make the choice between one or the other.
Healthy holiday boundaries
Here are some simple things that anyone can do over the holidays to help with setting boundaries and keeping them healthy:
Set healthy boundaries around:
- How much you drink and eat, and what you eat and drink.
- Where you spend your time.
- Who and what you prioritize.
- What and who you say “yes” to…
- How much money you spend.
- Which conversations you take part in.
- How long you stay and when you leave.
- What traditions and patterns of behavior stay or go – or begin for the first time.
- Discussions and behaviors that are taking place around you (and your children or grandchildren if you have any).
Why some people say “yes” when they mean “no”
If we say “enough” or “no” or something like these to another person it might not be obvious that they respect us for doing so, but they will. What could well be obvious is that they do not like us for saying it, but we have to accept that for our own self-esteem and self-love.
This is the root of the problem for most of us. We are taught how to have – or not have – healthy boundaries during our childhood. If children grow up in a house with no understanding of healthy boundaries, it nearly always means those children will become grown-ups with no knowledge of what a healthy boundary is, let alone how to protect one.
If someone has their self-love and self-esteem damaged as they grow up, they are much more likely to be searching for external love and approval. So saying “yes” when we mean “no” and not seeming able to say “enough” is something that just seems to happen.
The solution is to do some work on ourselves with the help of someone with expertise in these matters, such as a therapist or coach. Everyone, no matter how damaging their past has been, can learn to love and value themselves.