Setting boundaries is especially important during the holiday season. Every year, there are high expectations of love, cheer, and good vibes, but for many people, this is not the case because it can also be a very stressful time.
And, as nice as it is to have family in town and attend holiday parties, this can often lead to invasions of personal space or awkward dinner conversations that turn into arguments.
Setting boundaries can help prevent some of these problems from occurring, but it can be difficult for many people to do so.
Jessica Borelli, a professor of psychological science and a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Irvine said “it’s a really important part of healthy relationship functioning…and I think in general we’re not so skilled at it.”
Borelli said that “boundary setting occurs between one or more people when one person has to make a statement or set a limit regarding something they will not do within a relationship.”
The need for boundaries varies from person to person and can range from spending less time with someone, not attending an event you don’t feel comfortable attending, or establishing rules about how much family members are allowed to spend on holiday gifts.
According to Borelli, “what seems like a reasonable or sensible boundary for one person might seem completely unreasonable to another person,” which makes this really, really difficult.
Experts say that the act of setting boundaries with loved ones can result in an enormous amount of unavoidable guilt.
For example, after seeing your family’s reaction, you may begin to second-guess your decision. Alternatively, you may experience intense sadness as a result of disappointing a friend.
If this occurs, there are ways to manage your guilt and things to remember to make the guilt less overwhelming.
Know that the guilt you’re feeling isn’t necessarily a bad thing or even possible to totally stop.
Guilt is not a pleasant emotion. However, it may be an unavoidable emotion as you have difficult conversations with loved ones that are unlikely to make them happy.
“I don’t know that there’s a time when guilt is not warranted, because warranted to me means validation for your feelings. And I think whatever you’re feeling is valid,” said Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
She went on to say that it’s normal to feel guilty when setting a boundary with a loved one, and that it’s perfectly normal to wonder, “Is this an overreaction?” “Am I being overly sensitive?”
But only you know when a boundary is appropriate for you. It is not influenced by someone’s opinion or reaction.
In fact, when someone has a negative reaction to a boundary you’ve set, it’s usually a sign that it’s necessary, according to Henry. “If not, they will continue to mistreat you or cross that line with you.”
Even though guilt may accompany setting boundaries, it’s important to remember that by establishing limits in your relationships, you’re ensuring that you’re treated the way you want to be treated.
Without this, “you would then wrestle with feelings of enabling their behavior and feeling complacent in their negative treatment of you,” Henry added, which would add a whole different level of frustration.