Boundaries: Thanksgiving Edition
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
It's that time of year again! Families and friends gather together to celebrate community, family, and love, giving thanks for everything they have and everything that's yet to come, usually over a feast of delicious food. It's a time for us to reflect on where we came from, where we started, and where we are today.
For some of us, we look forward to Thanksgiving with excitement and anticipation. Just thinking about food cooking in the oven brings back positive memories of childhood holidays. As we've become adults, we don't see family as often as we used to, so this time of year is one that we cherish. We love catching up with extended family, going through old family photos, and retelling stories of old.
For others, the thought of gathering with our families fills us with dread. Years of continual violation of boundaries, inappropriate conversations, and maybe even previous abuse are at the forefront of our minds. As the holidays roll around again this year, we're left wondering why we continue to subject ourselves to spending a day with people we don't like, mostly because we feel obligated to do so. The thought of not going home for Thanksgiving is simultaneously tempting yet guilt-ridden. We dream of what it would be like to have a Thanksgiving filled with people we genuinely love, but resist that urge because we've been taught that "holidays are for family."
Wherever you land on this spectrum, do you believe it's possible to actually enjoy Thanksgiving this year?
How YOU Deserve to Celebrate
We've talked about boundaries before (you can read about my hot take on boundaries here) and their importance in helping us have healthy relationships with all the people that exist in our lives. But you probably only physically see the people you'll be spending Thanksgiving with a few times a year, and you might be feeling some guilt that makes you believe you should allow those people to act, speak, or behave however they want to because you only see them a few times a year. It sounds like it wouldn't be difficult to not assert your boundaries in these circumstances, and truthfully, it usually is harder to stand up for ourselves and our needs. But each time we allow someone to disrespect us, speak disrespectfully to us, or verbally/emotionally abuse us, we sacrifice our own peace. And that's no way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
You deserve to celebrate Thanksgiving feeling comfortable, respected, and wanted. It's not possible for you to celebrate Thanksgiving in a healthy way if you're constantly sacrificing your boundaries to make someone else's inappropriate behavior acceptable.
Let's talk about a few holiday boundaries you can implement during your Thanksgiving meal with family that will make it more bearable and comfortable for you.
We've all been there: the uncomfortable questions about when you're getting married or when the next baby is going to arrive, who's dating who now, the political conversations that suddenly turn into a heated argument and before you know it, your nervous system is completely dysregulated and you question if heading to Antarctica is an option (before all the ice caps melt).
Climate change will probably prevent you from that Antarctica trip, but so will implementing healthy boundaries. Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries you can use during your time with family at Thanksgiving:
"I'm not comfortable talking about that. But hey, I would love to tell you more about ___!"
"Here's why that comment was racist and why I don't tolerate racism in any form."
"Those questions are personal to me and my family. We'll let people know when we make a decision."
"I just wanted to let you know that I'll be needing to leave at *insert time here*."
"Politics aren't something I'm willing to discuss right now."
"My family and I have made this decision for ourselves, and we trust that decisions we make are right for us."
"Thank you for offering your help! I'll let you know if I need it."
"I expect a relationship with you built off of mutual respect."
"Thanks for expressing your opinion about that, but I know what's best for me and my family."
"If you continue to violate my boundaries, I'll need to leave."
You know yourself best, and you know what boundaries will work for you and help you have a healthy Thanksgiving with your family. Remember, it is not worth sacrificing your inner peace just to make someone else's inappropriate behavior acceptable.
For those who have made the decision to stop communicating with their family altogether due to continuous violation of boundaries and/or verbal/emotional abuse, I see you. This time of year can be especially difficult as they grieve the family they wish they had. To anyone who has chosen their own mental health and the wellbeing of themselves and their family over spending holidays with extended family, you are brave, and you are not alone. For these people, it's their deep, genuine relationships with friends that have become family; friends who have become like balm to their wounded soul. May your Thanksgiving surrounded by your family be filled with celebrations and gratitude for finding a new space where all of you is welcome to come as you are.
However and with whoever you're spending Thanksgiving with this year, I hope you remember that you are valued, worthy of respect, and you deserve to take up space at the table. Implementing your boundaries is a way you demonstrate that value to others. Boundaries are healthy, good, and help us have healthy relationships with the people around us.
You can rest assured this Thanksgiving that even though you're spending it with family you don't particularly enjoy, you can walk away from conversations. You can assert your worth. You can make your needs known. You can choose yourself.
And your Thanksgiving celebration can still be a good one.
From all of us at Root Counseling, we hope you have a happy, healthy, and boundary-filled Thanksgiving.
The holidays can be a difficult time to navigate. At Root Counseling, we understand the complexities of families around the holidays and enjoy helping people create healthy relationships with family members and friends. If you're interested in setting up an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.