Set boundaries & survive the holiday season : Kate Murphy Therapy
Kate Murphy, LCSW specializes in working with people suffering from anxiety and depression, and provides couples therapy including premarital counseling in the Atlanta metro area of Norcross, GA at the Pathway Center for Psychotherapy.
boundaries, boundaries as self-care, self-care, holiday season self-care, Atlanta, Chamblee, Georgia, telehealth, Kate Murphy psychotherapist
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Set boundaries & survive the holiday season

Set boundaries & survive the holiday season

The holidays are upon us. This year, as opposed to last year, the landscape has changed. Vaccinations are more accessible, travel options have expanded, and more event spaces are open. There will be more freedom of movement. We can get together easier which is wonderful. Connection is a good thing.

Already, there’s a ton of advertising about gathering with family this year after a long absence. Great news for some. Concerning or downright frightening for others with more conflicted relationships.

The pandemic provided an easy way to uphold boundaries with family and friends. We are not back to normal this holiday season, but we are a lot closer. There will be more invitations to leave home or invite others in.

It is important to pause and consider what you actually want to do this holiday season. Also, what you do not want to do this season with your time, money, and heart. Setting clear boundaries with those close to you is key to enjoying the season.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries help keep relationships safe and balanced. Healthy boundaries protect our valuable resources such as mental and emotional well-being, physical health, time, and money. Think of them as defining what is you or yours as opposed to someone else’s. For example:  your body, feelings, responsibilities, possessions, etc…

Families have different boundary styles. Boundaries may be diffuse (enmeshed), rigid (disengaged), or clear. Most families are somewhere in between.

  • Diffuse boundaries show up in families where independence is not tolerated well. Emotional states are dependent upon how the other members of the family are feeling.  If one person is upset, everyone is upset. Privacy is not well-enforced.
  • Rigid boundaries occur when family members are disengaged, there is a strict adherence to rules, and communication is surface level. Isolation is more common here.
  • Clear boundaries create an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. It is ok to disagree or say “no” to invitations. Individuals exhibit self-discipline in personal habits like keeping a budget or maintaining a home.


Set clear boundaries and then protect those boundaries. This keeps you from being taken advantage of and getting burned out emotionally or physically. This is more challenging when you are part of a family system that has diffuse or rigid boundaries. Change is possible.

Healthy Boundaries Create: 

  • Boundaries are not selfishIncreased Self-esteem
  • Higher levels of emotional and physical space
  • More freedom, independence, and joy
  • Authenticity in relationships


Boundaries are not: 

  • Selfish
  • Rude
  • Unkind
  • Orders or demands
  • Unchangeable

Some of the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried… Boundaries are not fake walls, not separation, they’re not division. They are respect for what’s ok and what’s not ok for me.

-Brené Brown

What do you (really-really) want for the season? 

  • Holidays Deeply consider what you want and don’t want to do this holiday season.
  • If applicable, talk openly with partner and/or kids about what they genuinely want to do this season. Compromise will be necessary in this step.
  • Assess your energy levels. Social interaction can feel overwhelming if you’ve been spending time alone or in small groups over the last year and a half.
  • Make a plan – events, budget, downtime, etc…
  • Set boundaries  and communicate with friends and family based on the plan.
  • Adjust as you go. You can change your mind – accept more invitations or say “no” to some “yes’s”


Ideas for declining an invite: 

  • No. (it is a complete sentence)
  • Maybe next time, thanks for including me.
  • I just can’t commit to that this year.
  • It sounds like fun, but
      • I’m overscheduled.
      • I can’t afford it.
      • I don’t have childcare.
      • that’s really not my specialty or comfort level.
      • I wish I could, I’m just not available.


Boundaries protect valuable resourcesAll of this is easy for me to write. It is harder to put into motion. Be gentle with yourself. I know I will. If boundaries are new to you, you will probably feel uncomfortable saying “no”. You may be a bit rigid or back track on your “no’s” at first. That’s normal.

If you find yourself saying too many “yes’s” to things you don’t want to do, plan some rewards for yourself. A little more sleep or a piece of chocolate to show yourself some care. If you are an over achiever, people pleaser or family fixer, it is hard to protect your time and energy with boundaries and also so worth it in the end.

Happy Holidays!

For more: 

  • The Better Boundaries Workbook: A CBT-Based Program to Help You Set Limits, Express Your Needs, and Create Healthy Relationships by Sharon Martin, LCSW 
  • Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself
  • The Joy of Being Selfish: Why you need boundaries and how to set them by Michelle Elman


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