How to enforce your boundaries during family gatherings

How to enforce your boundaries during family gatherings

Family dinners are fun.
Actually, not always and not for everyone.

Most of us have been to family dinners, gatherings and celebrations where (some specific) family members are more intrusive than others: they keep asking personal questions in front of everyone, they feel entitled to know our private secrets, they treat our life as theirs - you get the point.

This year, it will be different

This year, you are not allowing people to bulldoze you with their indiscretion. This year, you are not giving permission to people:

1. To comment on your body, your face, your diet, your hair, your weight, neither negatively nor positively

The new movement about body neutrality focuses on how a neutral perspective about our body is making us feel more at peace about our self-worth. We don’t need to love our body in order to feel worthy / respected / important. Our body is just a vessel that carries all the important functions we need in order to exist and survive.

2. To ask you why you are still single, when you are going to get married, how your love life is going, why you broke up with your ex-partner, etc

Letting people into our private lives and relationships means that we entitle them with the right to have control over it. We grant them permission to say what is right for us and what is not. Sooner or later, we will suffocate in this controlling relationship, we will grow resentful and eventually we will grow apart from this person.

3. To ask you when you are going to have children, why you haven't got children yet, when they are going to become grandparents, how come their neighbours already have two children and you don’t, or to tell you how risky it is to have children at an older age, how the clock is ticking, etc.

Couples who don’t have children are those who either can’t have children or don’t want to. In both cases, an outsider’s comment about their having children or not is extremely disrespectful, and, in many cases, a hurtful reminder of their infertility or relationship challenges.

4. To comment on your sexual preferences and sexual life

We are grateful that we live in an era where there is freedom to express different sexual orientations and sexual preferences (at least, it’s better than it used to be - we still have some way to go). However, having a relative commenting or being passive-aggressive or sarcastic about your dating life, your partners, or your sexual orientation is not respectful and they should not feel that they are allowed to do so in any case. It is your life and there is a clear red line that you are drawing here.

5. To comment discriminating remarks about race, sex, colour, religion, politics

Family dinners are not a podium for political, religious or ideological conversion. If people want to discuss these topics, they should do so in a respectful way, taking into account that 1. Not everyone shares the same beliefs, and 2. Racism is racism. It’s not about different perspectives.

6. Hugging you, kissing you, touching you when you don't feel comfortable

Especially now that everyone feels stressed about coronavirus spreading exponentially, you have every right to say that “This year I am not doing hugs." But generally speaking, no one gets to touch you, hug you and kiss you just because they are relatives. There’s no right granted to them via DNA.

How to enforce boundaries

But, how do you enforce your boundaries?

1. Respect your own boundaries

First of all, you need to convince yourself that these boundaries are important. If you don't grant yourself permission for these boundaries, how can you expect others to respect them?

2. Practice boundary-setting

Think about what you will say and how you will say it. Write it down. Make it yours. Use your own language, not some robotic, canned responses you found online. Most importantly, figure out the WHY of this boundary.

3. Prepare your environment

Bring it up at a neutral time. Call the person that feels more intrusive to you, explain to them why you want things to go differently this year, and kindly ask them to respect your personal space.

4. Expect resistance but be firm and confident about your boundaries

There is nothing wrong with you setting them. You are trying to protect your relationships with people that matter to you.

5. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for other people's feelings

If they don't like your boundary or if they feel rejected or annoyed, it's their feelings and they have every right to feel what they feel.

6. Prepare for the worst

Some people will totally tune into your wishes, and they will understand why you are setting this boundary. They will appreciate your honesty and they will see how your way is a more respectful way of connecting with others. Some others, though, will push back, will push harder, will disrespect you even more, will display passive-aggressive behaviour.

When this becomes too taxing for your mental health, prepare yourself to exit the relationship you have with those people. Grieve about this loss but remind yourself that in the long run, it will be better for you.

Connection and fun

Holidays and family dinners are opportunities for connection and fun. Not disrespect and stress.

This year it will be different.
You matter.
Your needs are valid.

Vassia  Sarantopoulou


Vassia Sarantopoulou

Vassia Sarantopoulou is a Counselor-Psychotherapist with more than 15 years of experience, the Head Psychologist and founder of AntiLoneliness. AntiLoneliness offers individual and couples counseling, workshops and support groups, in...

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