How to Create Boundaries This Holiday Season – A People Pleaser’s Guide

Speak your mind, and the rest will follow.

By Anne Campbell
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Hi, my name is Anne and I’m a people pleaser. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Admittedly, I’m the friend to call to get the answer you’re hoping to hear, be it on a parenting issue or a Zara purchase. If you’re looking for confirmation you’ve made the right choice, I’m most likely going to give it to you. I tend to be the one who agrees with the group conversation at hand rather than elevate my opinion. Not because I don’t have strong opinions, but more because of a good-manners-mentality picked up when I was young that stuck. I could medal in supportive head nodding. If I feel I’ve offended a friend or even a stranger, I’m quick to apologize. If I get the sense that someone’s feelings are at all compromised or hurt, I’ll carry that around for longer than I care to admit. 

And to round all of that out, I’m definitely the one who can’t ever seem to say no. Yes has always seemed so much easier—until now. 

If 2020 has taught me anything—besides to keep a month’s supply of toilet paper in my garage—it’s that the word no should be part of my vernacular. And that not only is that okay, but it’s also more than okay. Setting boundaries—especially in our current COVID climate—is more essential now than ever. It’s taught me that if I don’t set healthy limits, I’ll allow other people’s happiness, comfort, and even health to potentially take precedence over my own.

Setting boundaries and being kind are not mutually exclusive. I’ve come to understand and believe that I can simultaneously be kind to others and compassionate toward myself. 

It’s a challenge to find silver linings in a pandemic, but it seems I’ve found mine. And it’s a 2-letter word; which is ironic, as this year has me mainly thinking and speaking in 4-letter words.

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With Thanksgiving upon us, I don’t have the same joyful ease thinking about the harvest punch flowing and decorating our home with autumnal décor as I normally would. Instead, I’m living with a particular amount of anxiety about all the no’s I’ll be doling out that are typically categorical yes’s.

In an attempt to put this mentality into motion, I’ve put together a few helpful guidelines so that you can have a joyful holiday season without feeling as though you’ve compromised what you find of core importance. Once you’ve read mine, let us know in the comments—how do you plan on setting boundaries with your own family and friends this year?

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Be Your Own Advocate

Is a friend not wearing a mask when you wish she would, or a family member just won’t stop about the election? If you’re feeling uncomfortable about a situation, even if it’s with a bestie or relative at your Thanksgiving table, it is your responsibility to speak your truth.

While it does require courage to pipe up in awkward situations, others around you cannot read your mind. Nor should they be expected to. Stay calm, be kind, and speak up.

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Ho Ho No

Scenario: Your friends are getting together for a socially-distanced holiday happy hour.

Solution: Give yourself permission to beg off. And attempt to do it without manufacturing a detailed excuse. A simple “I’m not comfortable, but you all have a blast!” will do the trick.  Your friends will understand if you’re feeling burned out, are feeling uneasy, or just need a night at home. 

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Take a Me Break

Need a breather? Seize it. When you’re a visitor at the holidays, even if it’s in your childhood home, it is easy to fall out of routine and feel a bit out of sorts. While temporarily trading your daily ritual (morning cold brew/meditation/walk with podcast) for last in the shower/tv blaring/babysitting your sister’s kids can be liberating for some, it’s anxiety-inducing for others. Your mom will most likely understand if you need to step away from the turkey basting to have a breather moment for yourself. And if she doesn’t? Try to remember that you can only control your own feelings. If she seems resentful because you need to set a certain boundary for yourself, that is not your responsibility. (We know, people pleasers… very hard to do.)

friendsgiving dinner party

Hostess With the Mostess Hiatus

You’ve hosted your annual Friendsgiving for the past five years. And yes, your friends may have already expected an Evite by now. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way forever. If you need a change this year, let your friends know that you need to sit this one out. But let them know early so as to avoid the onslaught of text messages. Head it off at the pass, and then allow yourself to fully step away from the responsibility.

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Bank On Group Gifts

For many of us this year, our financial grounds feel a bit shaky. Instead of splurging on friends and family gifts on an already-maxed-out-Mastercard, try going in on a group gift to pinch your pennies. And if you’re hosting, ask for a potluck so that you’re not saddled with all of the work and the expense of it all. 

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Set Expectations

A great way to enjoy the holidays while also staying true to yourself is communicating ahead of time. Want everyone to mask up and sit outside this year for a meal? Go ahead and let them know now. Don’t want to argue red-versus-blue politics over your side of mashed potatoes?

Tell your family and friends now that you’d prefer if politics were not discussed at all in your presence. And if they can’t comply, reserve the right to push the chair back and excuse yourself. Without making excuses. 

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Grab a Wing Man (or Woman)

Already anticipating a comment about your love life, your weight, or your political affiliation? Fill a friend, partner, or family member in on what you might be nervous about before your gathering. Create a silent code—a wink or under-the-table chair kick—so that your friend knows you’ve gotten into the uncomfortable space and would appreciate help with a topic change