How to Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Holiday Season Tips!

Meghan Powers, LGPC

The last quarter of the year is an exciting time: major holidays, significant weather changes, and the promise of a fresh start at the end of the year. Yet despite so many reasons to be jolly, this time of year can be difficult for many. Not everyone feels supported by their family – many people do not always get along with various members of their family, and some have lost contact. Disagreements escalate, feelings are hurt, and relationships get strained. While Uncle Johnny and his frequent reposting may not be your favorite family member, there’s a good chance you may not want to cut him out completely. Keeping that delicate balance of enforcing your boundaries and leaving with relationships intact may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done.

What can you say to someone who is directly pushing your boundaries? In certain social situations we may feel pressured to allow others to say or do something otherwise unacceptable just to keep the peace or to not make a scene. It is possible to enforce your own boundaries without being rude. Here are some tips for maintaining boundaries while minimizing conflict:

  1. “No.” ‘No’ is a complete sentence. This one can be hard for many people who are used to receiving some kind of backlash for saying no or talking back to those in authority.
  2. “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable discussing that right now.” It can be easy to get sucked into an argument with a family member who really pushes your buttons. To spare both your feelings and your energy, saying this phrase to an argumentative cousin may help diffuse a situation before it ever begins.
  3. Remember that you are worth respecting. Many take “respect your elders” to the extreme, and expect those of younger generations to always listen to and obey the older members of the family. It could be helpful to remember that you deserve respect no matter your spot on the family tree. Someone doesn’t get to treat you unfairly simply because of your age. If you struggle with maintaining boundaries with older family members, keep this in mind.
  4. Your energy and time are valuable. Conflicts and arguing are exhausting! At some point it’s healthier to realize when you need to walk away from a conversation. When your conversation partner doesn’t seem to put much effort into seeing your point of view or when they seem to disagree with everything you say no matter what, it may be time to change the subject or walk away entirely.

Visualization exercise: imagine the boundary to your thoughts and emotions as a wall made from stone, thick and impenetrable. You are the only gatekeeper to the only gate in this wall; you decide who can get close to you and who is safer to keep at arms’ length.
Imagine the person you trust most in the world – why do you trust them? If you can’t think of someone specific, what would be the characteristics of someone who deserves your trust and respect? Why is this person allowed in and what needs of yours do they fulfill? Your answers to those questions make up the password that allows people to pass through the gate and get closer to you.
When an uninvited guest attempts to barge through a gate that is closed and guarded against them, the gatekeeper calls for backup, or security. There are strategies, or coping mechanisms, that we can use to fortify our own defenses. Deep breathing and grounding exercises help calm down your body and help you find a clear head, further building up your defenses against those who attempt to push your boundaries.

Here’s a quick deep breathing exercise: Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Pause for a brief moment with your lungs full of air. Breathe out through your mouth slowly for a count of 8. Focus on the sensation of the air moving out of your body. Breathe in through your nose again for a count of 4, and repeat the process 3-5 more times. This exercise helps calm the physiological aspects of emotion, and can bring you into a place where you can think more clearly. Thinking clearly will help you avoid unnecessary conflict.
Here’s a quick grounding exercise: Starting from greatest to least, name:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste.

This exercise allows you to get out of your head and bring you into the moment. This can be particularly helpful when you struggle with responding to your emotions.

One thing to remember: you cannot directly affect how someone thinks about or reacts to you. You can only directly affect how you react and behave in response to someone else. We at Milestones would love to connect you with one of our skilled, compassionate therapists. For more information about how we can help or to schedule an appointment, please use our contact form or call (443) 574-4295.

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