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Avoiding Conflict and Maintaining Limits with Family Members

THIRA Health / approach  / Avoiding Conflict and Maintaining Limits with Family Members

Avoiding Conflict and Maintaining Limits with Family Members

The holidays are upon us. What this means may be varied for different people, whether we’re readying ourselves for the rush of shopping and preparations for parties and feasts, or gearing up for the first holiday without the presence of a loved one. You may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of social commitments, family obligations, and financial pressures, and torn from your normal routine and structure.

The holiday season at its best is about giving and doing for others, about finding rest in the community of others, friends and family alike. However, for many, it can be a vulnerable time to make unhelpful choices, and slink back into old relationship patterns that you’ve worked hard to untangle yourself from. You may be tempted to become more passive, not wanting to voice your wants or needs due to your fear of losing approval or “ruining” a special event by sparking conflict. 

You may be no stranger to setting aside your own needs for those of others’, but when the demands of the day outweigh our priorities, often we are left feeling depleted, overwhelmed, and resentful. In years past, you may have done this willingly, at the cost of your own happiness, your own well-being, but ask yourself, for how much longer are you willing to deny yourself the happiness you desire?

Will you continue to rush around to countless commitments, wearing yourself thin because you’re unable to say “no”? Will you continue to fulfill the needs of others above your own, taking care of them in ways they may or may not have yet to reciprocate? Will you honor your own priorities or will you neglect your goals for the season by falling into familiar habits of stuffing yourself full of food, desserts, or alcohol to try (likely unsuccessfully) to regulate your emotions and avoid engaging in conflict? 

            Instead, choose to value yourself, set limits, and remember to do the following:

1. Listen in to what you’re feeling

Take time to consider your past and present self, especially the ways that you tend to react to and engage with others. Whether it is identifying unhelpful patterns of relating with others learned in childhood that have resurfaced in your adult relationships, or the notion that when you’re feeling uncomfortable you’re more likely to lash out at others; equip yourself with this understanding and practice self-awareness in the moment. Tune into your body and the physical sensations that arise when you deny your needs, and imagine how you might feel if you took a different approach.

2. Name Your Limits

Remind yourself of what sort of experiences you are and are not willing to endure, from others and from yourself. Decide that it is a priority and that you are worthy of defending and enforcing these limits. Practice saying your responses aloud, or perhaps even a general statement of intention as you move throughout your day: “I will honor myself and my limits”.

3. Take Care of Yourself

As the holiday festivities begin, remember to schedule time for self-care, and prepare yourself for the demands that will arise. Before visiting family, or attending holiday parties, treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure, make an effort to wash and style your hair in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident, or take a relaxing bath. Remember that taking care of your physical self will influence your mental health in many positive ways, and serve to help you stay true to the limits that you’ve set.

Whether you’re travelling for the holidays, or remaining at home, seek to infuse your daily life with consistent markers of the promise you’ve made to yourself. This may take the shape of surrounding yourself with comforting fragrances like scented candles or essential oils to help soothe and remind yourself to remain calm and centered, or instituting a daily check-in where you review your internal state and spend time journaling. 

4. When Limits are Crossed: Be Direct

            One of the foundational skills of DBT may be helpful in addressing any number of situations that arise in the course of daily holiday-time conflict: DEAR MAN.

Describe the situation at hand

Express clearly how you’re feeling

Assert yourself, by asking for what you need or by saying “no”

Reinforce the other party by highlighting how this will benefit them

Stay Mindful and focused on the conversation at hand

Appear Confident, regardless of how you feel on the inside

Negotiate and be willing to find a suitable compromise

5. Take Breaks and Stick to your routine

Remember that so often it is the fact that during the holiday season we are off of our regular routine or schedule that contributes to our sense of overwhelm or stress. By continuing to engage in our regular workouts (or a modified version for on-the-go), by avoiding excessive alcohol, and trying to maintain some amount of normalcy in our eating habits and in our sleep schedule, we are able to set ourselves up to have a positive emotional frame from which to approach the challenges that arise. Enlist the support of someone you trust to help you stand firm, take breaks when you need it, or even just to have a trusted friend to cheer you on in your efforts.

Remember that by entering the holiday season with intention, you will be able to hold onto the growth you’ve achieved throughout the year, and with a little bit of work, can set yourself up on the right path for years to come.


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