The holidays are upon us and with that usually comes a lot of family togetherness. For some, this can be a joyous time, but for others, the stress of spending time with family can be overwhelming. This is when boundaries become particularly useful. Most of us have that parent or relative that really tries our patience. Perhaps they are overly critical- commenting on your weight, lack of career path, or less than perfect life. Couple that with some eggnog and you’re in for a rough couple of days. However, by establishing boundaries, we can preserve our sanity and find a safe space to retreat when Mom, Dad, or Aunt Meg just can’t seem to help themselves. During this holiday season, when you find yourself confronted by your not-so-favorite relative/frenemy/parent, try these steps:


  1. Identify your trigger. What about this person is causing you stress? Is it their criticism? Is it their uncanny ability to make you feel insignificant? Perhaps it’s their insistence on one-uping you. Whatever the reason, reflect on why it bothers you so much. Chances are, the person is triggering an issue that might warrant further exploration (after the holidays, of course).
  2. Establish an escape route. Even if you end up in a coat closet wedged between your grandmother’s mink coat and an old Hoover vacuum, find a quiet space to be alone. Remain here for several minutes, perhaps engaging in a brief deep breathing activity. Remind yourself that this situation is temporary.
  3. Set clear boundaries. If you are able, tell this person how you’re feeling. Let them know that you are not comfortable engaging in a conversation. You can always revisit the issue at a different time in a more appropriate setting, but you do not owe anyone an explanation if you do not feel ready to provide one. By taking control of the situation, you will feel more empowered to reinforce boundaries with this person in the future. If all else fails, avoid them. I realize for some this might be difficult. You might feel as though you are being rude. I would encourage you to think about what is best for you. Is subjecting yourself to a night worth of criticism or condescension worth the possible risk of being perceived as rude?
  4. Go easy on the adult beverages. We all know that alcohol can take the edge off of any tense situation. Everything looks better through a tall glass of wine. And while it can be oh-so tempting to indulge in a hot toddy or two (or four), limiting your alcohol intake will also limit the chance of on overly-emotional and potentially damaging exchange with your provocateur. While one or two glasses throughout the course of the evening is fine, try to remain clear-headed (or at least up-right). This will help you remain in control and feel empowered to maintain your boundaries.

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