For all it’s shimmer and promise, the festive season can also bring a truckload of challenges for many people. If you’re not gleefully anticipating decorating the tree and trying to one-up Santa in the gift-giving stakes, then you might be feeling a little, well, underwhelmed.

The busyness and hype is not for everyone. It can be an incredibly lonely time, a time when grief is heightened, and emotions are extra-sensitive.

And then there’s those people for whom the holidays are the most stressful time of year. Your anxiety spikes (and precious little can reduce it). You feel like you have to psych yourself up for all the get-togethers and gatherings. And you have no idea how you’ll navigate another year where you have to be in the same room as your mother/ father/ brother/ sister/ uncle/ aunt/ (insert the most judgemental, toxic person in your family here).

If you can relate, read on. I want to give you a crash course in festive boundaries for your own self-preservation over the holidays.

But first, let me clarify something, because sometimes boundaries get a bad wrap.

Boundaries are not selfishness. They are the lines we draw around ourselves that help to buffer us against the demands of life. They communicate to others how we choose to distribute our personal resources, and they help us manage our relationships with others to avoid becoming depleted.

Boundaries are protective, and without them, we are (consciously or unconsciously) offering others the power to decide how our energy is best used.

To keep the power of directing your own energy, time, and emotional bandwidth in your own hands, here’s my breakdown on boundaries:

What is a Boundary?

  • A boundary is a clear line or space between you and someone else that demonstrates where you end and they begin
  • A boundary delineates your values and the extent of your responsibility

Why do we need boundaries?

To communicate our needs, protect our resources, and demonstrate self-respect

Why do we struggle to set healthy boundaries?

Fear of rejection, abandonment, confrontation, guilt, or simply not knowing how

What do unhealthy boundaries look like?

  • over-sharing
  • neglecting our own needs
  • not saying ‘No’
  • letting others make decisions for you
  • taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings
  • taking advantage of someone else for your own gain
  • being shut off from closeness

What are the effects of unhealthy boundaries?

  • Resentment
  • Frustration
  • Others having more control over your resources than you do
  • Loss of sense of identity

Learning boundaries:

We learn where our boundaries are by not having them present and feeling the discomfort of them being crossed

What do healthy boundaries look like:

  • Know, prioritise and uphold your values
  • Communicate your wants and needs respectfully
  • Say ‘no’ when necessary
  • Set consequences for violations of your boundaries

Tips for setting boundaries:

  • Work on your relationship with yourself
  • Remember you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction or discomfort
  • Being clear is kind

How to set boundaries:

  • Communicate calmly and respectfully
  • Repeat your message
  • Consider what you agree to first – it’s easier to set a boundary than deal with a boundary violation
  • Thank people who honour your boundaries
  • Ask for support and back-up if you need it

Thoughts about boundaries from our community that I loved:

  • Taking a moment before I decide something to figure out how I feel about it before I say yes
  • Sometimes you feel like you’re being mean but you’re not. Clear is kind
  • When I’m left feeling smaller than before, it’s time for a boundary
  • In order to say yes, I must learn to say no
  • Boundaries must continually be re-assessed and re-set over time
  • Boundaries create peace
  • So many people said they learned boundaries by the pain of not having any
  • Listening to my intuition rather than what I think might upset someone
  • I came to understand my high sensitivity which enabled me to prioritise setting boundaries
  • Stopped discussing plans with anyone who doesn’t trust me to fulfil my dreams
  • We teach others how to treat us by what we allow and don’t allow
  • I think of a rattle snake – they alert you not to come close before you cross the line!

Boundary violations that are common over the festive season:

  • Being asked questions about your personal life that make you feel uncomfortable
  • Being expected to ‘rescue’ family members for whom crisis is common at this time of year
  • Being expected to spend money you’d rather not spend
  • Being dragged into conversations based on judgement and gossip
  • Being expected to spend time with people whose values, politics, or views are very different to your own
  • Being expected to fill up your calendar
  • Being expected to eat food (in amount and type) that you wouldn’t normally eat (this is not a boundary violation if you enjoy it)
  • Being expected to ‘act happy’
  • ________________________________________________ (add yours here)

Boundaries that will help you maintain your sanity in the festive season:

  • Choosing not to engage with people or conversations that drain your energy
  • Choosing not to engage with people or conversations that are triggering for you
  • Saying no to events that, if you attended, would have you sacrificing your authenticity or have you regressing to a past version of yourself
  • Saying no to events or time demands that leave you with no ‘white space’ in your calendar (white space, or unscheduled time, is essential for emotional and physical decompressing)
  • Being mindful of the emotional and physical demands of travel, and choosing to do so based on your reserves rather than the expectations of others
  • Having conversations that support conscious gifting to avoid spending money on stuff, or receiving stuff that is not meaningful or not wanted
  • Giving yourself permission to leave gatherings before you are depleted
  • Staying true to yourself and your growth even when this challenges people close to you who are invested in the previous version of yourself