Do you dread the year-end holidays and all of the crazy spending, stress, exhaustion and time spent hosting and trying to please cranky relatives?
If that’s the case, it’s time to set some healthy boundaries.
“The holidays are supposed to be about giving and spending time with family and friends. This creates high expectations for our selflessness and generosity,” says Shawn Meghan Burn, professor of psychology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and author of “Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Codependence, Enabling and Other Dysfunctional Giving.”
This is especially true for women who feel the need to make the holidays merry and bright for everyone.
Trying to meet everyone’s expectations — whether it’s a sister’s insistence on expensive gift-giving or being asked to host and cook for a small army of family — can challenge our emotional, physical and financial resources, leaving us feeling spent and behaving resentfully or passive-aggressively.
Still, many are afraid to speak up because they fear conflict or guilt. But if you don’t confront the feelings of being taken advantage of or overburdened, Burn said, it can erode relationships and cause burnout, which really does ruin the holidays.
Here are six tips for setting healthy boundaries this year, and in 2019:
1. Take an inventory of all the things you usually do around the holidays and see what you can drop without reducing the quality of the season. Could you delegate some of the cookie baking or wrapping? Or have everyone draw a name for a gift exchange to reduce the number of presents you have to buy?
2. If you’re tired of always hosting dinner at your house, you might try something like: “I know that I’ve hosted for as long as anyone can remember, but I’m no longer willing to do that. I’m sorry if it comes as a surprise but it’s just too much for me.”
3. If your co-workers are asking you to plan another holiday party, simply thank them for acknowledging the success of your past efforts, Burn said, but tell them you’re just too busy this year and need to pass the responsibilities to someone else.
4. When presenting your new boundary be simple, direct and tactful. And don’t blame or shame anyone for what they want, even if you disagree with it. “It helps to go in with your words at the ready,” Burn said. “Think about how the receiver is, and how they will best hear what you have to say.”
5. Don’t over-explain your decision. You’ll just give people something to argue with or counter. Give a succinct reason such as “I hope you understand that I can’t go to midnight Mass this year. I just don’t have the energy.” Or “I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have the budget to exchange gifts this year.” And leave it at that.
6. If someone argues with you just repeat your phrase like a mantra. Don’t stray from the script.
“We have to remember that the cost of pleasing everybody is very high,” Burn said. Asserting yourself might seem distressing, especially if family members object strenuously or lay on the guilt. Tell yourself that the feelings will ease with time — probably more quickly than you think — and remind yourself of the reasons you did it in the first place. Did you have a hard time paying your bills in January? Were you too exhausted to really enjoy your holiday?
And consider, Burn said, that if you’re always doing everything yourself you’re depriving others — particularly grown children — of the satisfaction that comes from creating an enjoyable holiday experience for others.
“We have to model boundary-setting for our children for the sake of their health and relationships.”