With holidays approaching, we talk about family. We talk about gatherings and traveling and traditions. And we talk about boundaries–sometimes not in so many words. Maybe we use words like obligation or ought-tos. Should. Guilt. Responsibility.
For many of us, the pandemic was an interruption to holiday traditions. We grieved missed traditions and missed connections, and we also found that some traditions felt better left behind. We found space. With an external pandemic, we could step aside from the internal ought-tos and obligations. We had an external boundary. I’d love to come home, but COVID. I’d love to see you, but pods and bubbles. We got to hold a boundary without the discomfort of the boundary.
The discomfort is back. We want to get back to holidays and normalcy and out of the pandemic. We want to move out of our pods and into a post-vaccination world. We have so much to look forward to–and we leave behind the boundary, the excuse, the reason, the option, of blaming a pandemic for space and boundaries we now enjoy.
Many of us sit in this dissonance. We don’t want to go back to the old ways. We’ve had 1 or 2 years off from obligations.
And we don’t want to experience the discomfort of setting boundaries. Maybe we don’t even know what boundaries we want to set. Maybe we don’t know how to set boundaries. How do we ask for the reprieve without knowing what we want?
What do we talk about when we talk about boundaries in therapy?
- We talk about safety. We talk about the feeling of warm hugs and cozy blankets and cups of tea. We talk about the feeling of people in our bubbles and heebie jeebies. We talk about anxiety and anger as warning signs of internal boundaries being violated–especially the boundaries we feel like we can’t say out loud.
- We talk about values. We talk about who we are at our core. Maybe we do an activity to sort out values and connect with what is important. We talk about actions from values. We talk about connecting to our safe, authentic self and bringing boundaries from within.
- We talk about kindness. The kindest way to set boundaries is before we are angry. Before we are threatened. Before they are violated. We talk about boundaries as a way of connection. We talk about boundaries as a way of relationship security–not avoidance. We talk about boundaries as a gift. Boundaries set from a place of compassionate, core self are an act of love to our family. We do ourselves and others a disservice when we treat boundaries as relationship-enders and relationship-distancers, rather than relationship-maintainers.
- We talk about feeling safe and keeping ourselves safe. We talk about seeing and accepting people for who they are. We talk about giving our family and friends space to be themselves in a relationship without giving up our own identity. We can thoughtfully and intentionally extend kindness to others through holidays. We can thoughtfully and kindly say no to some requests and leave space for others. We can thoughtfully and intentionally choose to meet obligations or step back.
Boundaries are not a stoplight. Boundaries are a map, with a compass of your core values and identity as you chart your path.
As winter approaches, think about what is important to you. What values guide you? How will you use those values to make plans and set boundaries over the next 3 months?