The Holidays are most often described as joyful and full of celebration; however, they can also be an occasion for difficult family dynamics to come to the surface. Maintaining boundaries with difficult family members is a challenging but essential practice to manage anxiety and preserve your peace. Navigating difficult family members during the holidays can be done if you anticipate it. The 6 tips below outline practical ways to create a holiday season that you can look back on with a sense of accomplishment and pride, while maintaining your sanity along the way. 

1. Tap Into Self Awareness 

The first step in maintaining boundaries with difficult family members during the holidays is self-awareness. Understand your own triggers and limits. Are there particular subjects or behaviors that set you off? Knowing your own emotional landscape can help you anticipate potential issues and formulate a plan to address them.

2. Set Expectations

It’s essential to set clear and realistic expectations. Understand that difficult family members may not change their ways, so adjust your expectations accordingly so you’re left less disappointed.

3. Communicate Boundaries  

Open, honest, and respectful communication is crucial. Before the Holidays, consider reaching out to the difficult family member. Share your concerns, express your boundaries, and let them know how their behavior affects you. Use “I” statements to avoid coming across as accusatory, e.g., “I feel uncomfortable when…” or “I would appreciate it if…”.

4. Seek Professional Support 

Sometimes miniating boundaries with difficult family members requires professional support. A therapist can provide guidance on effective communication, boundary-setting, and coping strategies. Additionally, support groups offer a safe space to share experiences and insights with others who are going through similar challenges.

5. Utilize Self Care

During the holidays, it’s crucial to prioritize self-care. Make time for activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and a sense of normalcy. Engage in exercise, meditation, hobbies, or any other adaptive self-soothing activities that help you maintain your emotional equilibrium. 

6. It’s OK to Walk Away

If a situation becomes unbearable, it’s important to know when to walk away. There’s no shame in temporarily (or permanently) distancing yourself from a toxic family member for the sake of your mental and emotional health. 

Article written by Bari Rothfeld, LCSW, CADC

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