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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Healy,

Setting Boundaries this Holiday Season

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

The holiday season is almost upon us—a time for celebrating and connecting with loved ones. But “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be stressful. Many of us spend more time with family than usual this time of year, and with that comes the need for setting clear boundaries, or limits, around what is okay and what isn’t.

Setting boundaries is often not something we learned in our families of origin. Implementing them now can make us worry about appearing selfish or disrespectful, but this is not the case. Boundaries are a powerful act of self-care, and a necessary one as we navigate the holidays.

When our boundaries are violated, we may experience feelings of exhaustion, confusion, anxiety, sadness, among other things.

Here are 4 tips for setting boundaries this holiday season:

1. “No” is a full sentence, but…

No absolutely is a full sentence, but it can often be intimidating to simply offer a hard no. It is possible to show empathy without giving in to something outside of your boundaries. Acknowledging and validating the other person’s disappointment while ensuring that you are communicating and meeting your own needs is possible, and often feels more authentic when dealing with family. Try “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make 300lbs of mashed potatoes this year.” Instead of “Are you crazy? No way!”

2. Don’t say “I don’t know” when you want to say “No.”

If you say you don’t know, you’ll just have to revisit the challenging situation all over again. And it won’t be easier the second time. Be firm, but kind, and leave no room for negotiation if you aren’t willing to compromise. Instead of “I don’t know if I can go to the city with you all this year,” try “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the city with you all this year.”

3. Say what you feel, then what you need.

Expressing your feelings creates space for someone to hear their influence on you. Keep it simple, “It makes me feel uncomfortable when you ____.” Then you can state what you need; “Please don’t do that anymore.” You can’t control how they will react, but once you’ve set your limits, the expectations are clear. If they don’t cooperate, you can remind them, but if they keep at it, you can always leave or ask them to leave, depending on the situation.

4. Seek out a solid support system

Family members who value you and friends who are just a text away are great resources to have during the holidays. Speaking with a mental health professional can also be immensely helpful. Talk to your therapist about your concerns and work together to determine where your boundaries lie and how you can enforce them. Having someone in your corner, even if they aren’t physically present, can make all the difference when navigating challenging family dynamics.

Remember, you are in charge of you. Your needs matter and you have the right to enforce healthy boundaries, no matter what. Be kind to yourself. If you would like to meet with a mental health professional, several therapists, associate therapists, and therapists in training are available at SAW Counseling Center.


O'Mara, L. (2016, October 15). 9 ways to set boundaries with difficult family members. Cope Better.

Stone, R. (2019, December 12). How to set healthy boundaries with family during the holidays. Robin D. Stone, LMHC.

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