By Maia Bondy, LMFT, FGTC Clinical Supervisor
The holidays are a truly wonderful time of year.
Joy, love, warmth, and food come to mind as some of the highlights of this season.
As an extrovert, I have always loved the holidays, as so many of the events are centered around engaging with people. But whenever there are people, there are also interpersonal challenges.
In years past, we have all had to cautiously navigate the more “controversial topics” around the holidays.
Some families have even had to create ground rules to help avoid fights and awkward situations! Others have endured broken relationships within the family because of unpleasant experiences.
How has COVID impacted the holiday season?
This year, on top of the normal struggles with interpersonal challenges, this holiday season we are also navigating the new topic of COVID-19 restrictions.
Everyone seems to have different feelings and opinions about the “new normal” and everyone is willing to share those opinions.
Here’s where I, like most people, come to a screeching halt because there is no road map for 2020.
“What about our traditions?” “Our traditions don’t include social distancing, wearing a mask, being scared of getting sick, and zoom calls (or at least mine don’t)!” How are we going to navigate this new “controversial topic”? How do we avoid awkward interactions?
Here are some tips to juggle the 2020 holidays
- Be flexible that things might not be the way you hoped they would be
- It’s okay to have boundaries, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hold them
- Love includes loving yourself AND loving others
- Lean in to gratitude and the moment
- New experiences can become traditions, too!
Just like all the other “controversial topics,” we have to start with boundaries. Actually, with all social interactions, we have to start with boundaries! The first step in creating boundaries is deciding what you feel comfortable with and whether or not you are willing to compromise in any of those areas.
Once you’ve decided what you are comfortable with, then you have the hard task of assertively communicating your decision with those that it will impact. As you go into this conversation, remember, it’s okay to disagree. You can love your family and friends without always saying “yes.” You can love the people in your life without loving their choices.
Here are the key parts of assertive communication: feelings, respect, and a plan. Feelings help those you talk to know and feel included in your decision, even when they are not. Feelings mean that you are using calm language, being vulnerable, and remain authentic.
Respect means that you stay aware of your tone, body language, and choice in words. You are not attacking the other person for their beliefs by being cautious of the language you choose and listening when they speak. Respect does not mean that you are agreeing, but rather that you value what they have to say.
A plan means that you go into the conversation knowing what you want or how much you are willing to compromise.
Here are some examples of using assertive communication to turn down in-person plans:
“I’m feeling concerned about our plans for Saturday due to the number of people that will be attending. I would be more comfortable if we used zoom instead of meeting in person, or if we postponed the event until a later date.”
“I’m so sad that we will not be able to do our tradition this year. It’s been so tough to navigate the restrictions, but I am happy that we are healthy and safe. Let’s make next year’s tradition the biggest and best year yet!”
Drop the guilty feelings
Unfortunately, when we assert boundaries, sometimes we can leave feeling guilty. This is a common experience! Guilt starts to show up when we feel like we have done something wrong, even when we have not. This can be especially difficult if you have a tendency to please others (also know as being a “yes” person), and can eat away at you until you give in and break the boundary you have set. If you start to feel guilty, remind yourself that setting a boundary is okay.
Remind yourself of the reasons that this boundary is important and how you are respecting yourself by holding the boundary. When you set a boundary with someone respectfully, you deserve the same level of respect and compassion towards yourself. Setting boundaries can be incredibly uncomfortable!
Not everyone has the same boundaries. Not everyone will respect you in the same way that you respect them when you assert your boundary. Communicating with the people we love is much more complicated than reading from a script, which is why speaking with a therapist can help you navigate the layers of the more difficult interpersonal challenges can be helpful. Having an outsider’s perspective can be insightful in helping you understand the people you love!