Clients tell me all the time, “I hate the holidays”. There’s many stressors for people as they attend family gatherings and try to meet everyone’s expectations for the season. One way to decrease holiday stress is to set some emotional boundaries during the holidays. Do you need emotional boundaries this holiday season with someone you’ll be celebrating with?

Being with family can often trigger old wounds, cause you to fall back into past roles from growing up, and end up with hurt feelings or fights. Because of this, it’s helpful to set emotional boundaries to allow you to engage in healthier ways and love your neighbor well even when it’s hard to do so.

What is an Emotional Boundary?

An emotional boundary is when you protect yourself emotionally from a person who isn’t emotionally safe for you. This could be someone who is overly critical and judgmental, creates emotional tension, or someone who triggers emotional pain or stress.

How do I set Emotional Boundaries this holiday season?

When setting emotional boundaries, it’s like you’re surrounding yourself with an invisible shield of protection from the unsafe person. I typically set mine with a lot of prayer and reliance on the Lord. Emotional boundaries help me put James 1:19 into better practice. “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

A way to do this includes lowering your expectations. You should expect a person to be how they have “always been” and do what they’ve “always done”. If you expect them to be who they are, it won’t catch you off guard and hurt so much. You have predicted the struggle in order for it to have less impact.

Lowering your expectations for the unsafe person to be who they usually are will also help your shield grow stronger. This is a process of grieving that relationships may never become what you desire them to be. This might be because the person is not capable of having a healthy relationship with you or anyone else.

If you set your hopes too high that a loved one won’t do what they’ve always done, then you are sure to be disappointed. It is common to say to yourself “Of course they did ____. That is what they do,” when you have good emotional boundaries.

This also allows people to reach a level of compassion for the person as you see their unhealthy and dysfunctional behaviors. It is sad to see how they engage in these ways and that it damages people around them. Their behaviors say more about them as the one doing them than it does about you as the one receiving it.

We can’t control other people or make them be different, but we can rely on the Lord to help us engage in different, healthy, and God glorifying ways with difficult people in our lives.

Protect yourself by decreasing your stress with emotional boundaries during the holidays. Do you need emotional boundaries this holiday season with someone you will be around?