This year, as the holidays gain momentum, many folks are having to re-consider how they celebrate and make meaning of this time of year. For many, the basis of the holidays relates to their religious faith and remembering why they are here, as part of honoring their Creator, whereas for others, it focuses on honoring and creating new traditions, spending time with loved ones, and savoring quality time in an era where this has felt like a luxury. It can be both, or even simply time off work, reflection for the New Year, getting lost in the holiday shopping hustle and bustle, etc.
One theme I have worked with folks on relates to boundaries. It can be boundaries with themselves, their families, friends and loved ones, or even a greater system such as church, one’s employer, school/homeschooling group(s), and so on.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the lines that separate us from something else, and can help us to feel safe(r), as well as being able to take better care of ourselves and our mental, physical, and emotional health. While the concept of boundaries is not new, how it relates to COVID-19, as well as expectations around the holiday season can make it important for how to take care of ourselves as we enter into this time. The holiday season can have a great amount of expectations and meaning woven into it, depending on our upbringing and culture.
What do boundaries look like?
An image that I have heard of before that I love as it relates to boundaries is akin to imagining what kind of surroundings a castle would have (hint: you get to be the incredible castle!). Do you have a fence up with spear points at the top, and a moat that won’t be let down for anyone, with a fiery dragon breathing down on anyone who dares enter? Or do you have a castle with gaping holes, worn down paths leading up to the interior, unable to hold in any warmth or protect itself because it is so wide open? For most folks, they want something in between, in order to be able to take care of themselves and feel secure, as well as being able to get to be a part of the world and interact with others, and being able to invite in the things that they desire.
Boundaries can be soft and flexible, or more rigid and hard, depending on what we need. They do not have to be stagnant. Presumably then, they can evolve, and should evolve to help meet us with where we are at. Boundaries for the holiday season can relate to budget and finances, including how much one spends, whom one is gifting to, or even expectations related to holiday cards, cookies, etc. and what is important for giving and receiving. They also can include how big and who is invited to your gathering; conditions needed for people being able to get together; utilizing technology to bridge this gap; or even division of emotional labor related to getting gifts, determining menus and plans, etc.
Questions to consider might include:
• What are you comfortable with?
• What is something you would like to continue to honor and uphold, and does it feel safe for you and others to do this?
• If not, are there any adjustments you can make, or is there another way to honor your intent and original hope?
• How do you know if you are starting to feel resentful? What are clues that you are getting to this point?
• What feels good for you to imagine, and is this what you want, or what others want?
What if someone doesn’t listen to my boundary?
Boundaries are also something that we may have control and influence over, and while other people may play a role in honoring or crossing our boundaries, we still have a very important say. For example, say that I am at a dinner table and have a boundary of not having name-calling be a part of my holiday gathering. I can share that with family or anyone involved ahead of time, and can share the ways that I want to be spoken to, as well as what I would like to avoid. If they honor my boundary, that is great! I can let them know how much I appreciate it.
If someone crosses my boundary, while I cannot control their actions, I do still have a choice over the next steps and consequences. For many folks, they may next go to – now what?! I asked them not to do something, and they did it anyways!
If someone crosses or violates your boundary, the next step may be: what do I want to do about this? It may mean reminding someone of or re-discussing your boundary; asking someone to leave; or it could mean refusing to remain in that situation yourself. It could mean limiting contact with that person, or not entering into that situation again with them if they continue to treat you a certain way. Whatever the consequence is, it is not necessarily about punishing or withholding affection from that person – it is about doing what it takes to take care of yourself, or even potentially your loved ones.
How do I know if I need a boundary(ies)?
This is a great question! If something feels sticky or unsettling to you, causes worry or concern, or has happened in the past that your mind keeps coming back to – setting a boundary may help. If you have a fear of losing something if you speak up or act to take care of yourself, it is really important to be curious about what you are scared of losing, as well as reflecting on what feels important to say, even if it feels difficult.
What might a boundary sound like?
“My child has too many toys, and we really want them to appreciate other people’s generosity. We are accepting gifts for experiences or books this year, but not toys.”
“If you continue to yell at me, I will leave the room. I want for us to be able to speak to each other respectfully, and I care about you.”
“We have a new baby, and are really concerned about exposure. We are limiting contact only to immediately family, and asking that folks have a negative COVID test prior. If you don’t get tested or if the baby is not feeling well, you will not be able to come over.”
What if I am still trying to figure out my boundaries?
Welcome to the club! : )
Boundaries are such a rich topic, and there is an amazing depth and breadth related to this. You can Google boundaries to check out wonderful worksheets, resources, and articles, or even check out a local bookseller or online retailer in order to learn more about this. My amazing colleague, Haley Klein, also wrote a blog in November 2020 for additional boundary basics!
Boundaries are also something that you can explore with loved ones and friends who are receptive to learning about this; mentors, colleagues, and peers; as well as a mental health therapist or professional.
Regardless of your intention and hopes for the end of 2020, Northstar wishes our best to you, and holds space for our community and everyone who has been impacted by the pandemic in 2020.
Photo credit: @kellysikkema from Unsplash