Holiday Boundaries

Katie Watts Renell's picture

The holidays inevitably seem to test our boundaries, particularly with family members. It can be so difficult deciding which set of family members/friends to spend your holiday with, or if your like me, wondering if you should try to make multiple stops throughout the day to try to please everyone.  This can be especially difficult for children of divorce. I have always struggled with setting boundaries over the holidays attempting to make it to multiple sets of households in one day.  By the days end, I would end up feeling drained and often resentful, frustrated that I was unable to spend the amount of time I wanted with each set of family members.  As I began to think about this holiday season and the boundaries I wanted to begin setting for myself, I reflected on this past module, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and how the demands of my life, particularly on holidays, far outweighed my priorities. When the demands (things others want from us) of our lives begin to overshadow our priorities (things important to us) we often feel depleted, overwhelmed, and resentful.

The idea of setting boundaries regarding how you decide to spend the holidays can cause a great deal of anxiety. Thoughts like, “I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” or “They’ll be so upset with me if I don’t come over,” often pop into my mind. As I began reflecting more on setting boundaries in my own life, I came across the article, “10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries,” by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. This article focuses on the writings of Dana Gionta Ph.D. According to Dr. Gionta, having healthy boundaries means, “knowing and understanding what your limits are.” Dr. Gionta lists 10 ways to build and maintain boundaries.

1. Name your limits- what are you willing or unwilling to tolerate or accept.

2. Tune into your feelings-listen to your emotional cues. Feeling uncomfortable or resentful can be indicators that your boundaries have been crossed. Asking yourself what’s causing your discomfort can help you identify its cause.

3. Be direct-DEAR MAN (Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, stay Mindful, Appear Confident, Negotiate) would be great here!

4. Give yourself permission-an effective use of FAST (be Fair, no Apologies, Stick to values, be Truthful) skills would be helpful.

5. Practice self-awareness-Mindfulness skills are key here. Gionta also says that’s it’s helpful to ask yourself, “What do I have control over?”

6. Consider your past and present- How have your past and current experiences effected your ability to set boundaries now? Be mindful of how looking into the past can lead to emotion mind.

7. Make self-care a priority-YES! Setting boundaries can be very taxing emotionally and physically! According to Gionta giving yourself the space and time for self-care can boost your energry, give you a more positive outlook, and give you peace of mind.“ Taking care of yourself is a very important piece to helping to encourage you to set and maintain boundaries.

8. Seek support-Setting boundaries is not an easy task at times. Reach out for support from others to help you maintain them.

9. Be assertive-Again, use that DEAR MAN! We may have to use the broken record technique if people have difficulty accepting the boundaries we set.

10. Start small-Baby steps. Start with a small non-threatening boundary and build from there. Identify your goal, figure out a few action steps that will help you get to your goal, then pick one action step to work on for now!


Tartakovsky, M. (2011). 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2014, from