Family gatherings and seasonal reunions are in full swing these days. What looks like a recipe for fun and love can often be a hotbed for shame, unhappiness and struggle. “The biggest thing is boundaries,” says Cary Hamilton, director and owner of Olympia Therapy. “When families come together there tends to be a lack of them.” Getting clear about your boundaries will go a long way to reduce unproductive spending of your time and energy. Avoidance creates more harm than good.

dad and young son staring into each other eyes with forward's touching - kid has hands on dad's collar
The time you spend with you children has far greater impact than the gifts you buy. Olympia Therapy wishes you fun times together. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

“We get more mental health calls for services from Thanksgiving to Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” reports Cary, comparing to the rest of the year. “It’s primarily about relationships. We force ourselves to be put in situations that impact us in a negative way,” she explains. This season, consider using your power of choice to transform the holidays from shaming to shining.

Olympia Therapy Addresses Common Issues with Extended Family and Friends

You used to open presents at your parent’s house. Now they’re separated. Your kids are older and want to stay home instead of going to the grandparent’s or prefer to spend more time with their friends. You’re working full time and finances are still tough. Using COVID as an excuse to avoid attendance doesn’t work like it used to. As parents, we teach children to say, “No, thank you.” “Adults have forgotten to say this,” notes Cary.

The focus of your time and energy gets complicated quickly. You’d rather not visit cousin Mary, but she’s family. The traditional gift exchange feels obligatory and beyond your budget. Do you have to bring that same green bean casserole, again? Where does sleep fit in? Throw in shame and guilt with a touch of anxiety and life is untenable.

You Can Set Boundaries Says Cary Hamilton

It’s okay to say, ‘No, thank you.’ Setting boundaries is healthy self-care reminds Olympia Therapy. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

Setting boundaries requires using words and telling others. Yes, you will face the consequences such as other’s unhappiness or anger. Cary encourages you to do it anyway, explaining that those who dislike boundary setting likely abused them already.

“Their discomfort is not related to your discomfort,” she adds. You also might discover that other family members feel the same as you do but had been fearful to express their thoughts. The antidote to shame is naming it, coaches Brené Brown, researcher professor and writer. Self-care is not selfishness.

Types of Boundaries

Emotional: You have the right to your own thoughts and opinions and are not responsible for those of others. You can say, “No.” When you take care of yourself, you model this behavior for your children and demonstrate it is important. Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe are clues for boundary setting.

Material: People are experiencing financial stress. You have a budget. When kids ask about things like money, they are seeking confirmation of what they know or suspect. It works to be honest. “Kids would rather know than experience the pain of being lied to,” notes Cary. Lying tells your kids they are not worthy of the truth. Whether or not finances are tough, gifts of experiences rather than things are powerful. “The greatest gift a parent can give is time. It will get you farther than any other gift – ever!” emphasizes Cary. It’s fine to live within your means. Play games together, take a walk or bake cookies.

person walking in the rain
Holidays can be stressful. Getting outside, even in the cool rain, is good for everyone, suggests Cary Hamilton, Olympia Therapy. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

Energy and time: There are a limited number of hours in a day. Decide how much time is good to spend away from home with others. Establish arrival and departure times so people know ahead of time. “Follow through,” says Cary. Do what you said you were going to do. You’ll find relief in channeling your energy to your preferred choices.

Mental: We all get to have our own values. You don’t have to defend or argue.

Physical: Some kids like hugs. Some don’t. It’s okay to tell grandpa your daughter isn’t a hugger. People have varying needs for amount of physical space and how much touch they like. Respect each other’s needs.

Olympia Therapy Offers an Easy Relationship/Conversation Tip

Use the phrase, “Tell me about …” rather than peppering your children or grandchildren with questions such as, “How is school?” or “What college are you going to attend?”  Engaging with others is not about being intrusive or finding blame. It can be simply getting information. “Tell me about…” gives the person the option of sharing something or not.

Remember that boundaries provide safety, comfort and support your joy. Improved mental health is valuable. Your self-respect attracts others to respect you, as well. You can also shift your boundaries as you choose. Get away from the right or wrong mindset and work on getting clear what works for you and what does not.

a young boy and girl holding their hands up at each other, playing
Decide the ways to apportion your time with family and friends through the holidays. Setting boundaries can reduce anxiety and discomfort and allow more energy for whom and what you love. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

The world is a constantly changing place. That’s the way it is. Take the time to think about your holiday traditions and activities and decide what to keep, change or stop. Cary believes you will be pleasantly surprised with the results you get from setting boundaries, not just for the holiday season but throughout the new year.

When you are seeking professional support for your family, contact Olympia Therapy via the website where you will also find a great deal of helpful information. Additionally, you can call 360.357.2370 or write info@olympiatherapy.com. You can also stay up-to-date via social media:

Olympia Therapy
1534 Bishop Rd. SW, Tumwater


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