Healthy Holiday Boundaries

Dana hears the annoying question coming from the other end of the phone. They are posed by her brother Norm. Although Norm says these words out loud, Dana has been thinking about and dreading this question for the past week. She’s mentally rehearsed the perfect answer, but her throat freezes up and her stomach flip flops.

For years Dana has attended family gatherings with half a heart. The other heart half has been closed and protective. She remembers the time when mom had over-imbibed (was drunk), and made a scene at the dinner table. Last year Norm forgot to buy gifts for Dana’s kids. The list of hurts, insults and judgements encircling holiday memories have left an emotional scar.

Dana slumps on the couch because she can’t focus or slow down the rise in anxiety after she talks to Norm. She begins to recognize long-familiar and over-worked questions and feelings which pop up inside her:

Does everyone have a family like this? Why can’t our family be normal?

After the job layoff this year, I’m not sure if I have the confidence to deal with questions about what happened and my plans to find work.

Nobody’s interested in having conversations about hope and happiness. It’s always the same boring discussions about the weather, religion and when the world is coming to an end.

Why do these people lower my mood so much when I see them just a few times a year?

Why am I doing things that make me miserable?

Why do I feel like a kid reliving the broken past? Why can’t I be in the present when I’m at mom’s house?

Instead of resigning herself to another year of depressing family memories, Dana wants something more for herself, husband and kids. But what does this mean for her? The nudge to change gets stronger as the days to figure out a plan get shorter and shorter. Eventually the stress about how to deal with the holidays becomes too much for Dana. She looks in the mirror and is horrified by the dark circles under her eyes and the panicked look she can’t erase from her face. Besides feeling worn out, tense, and fragile, she has been:

  • eating fast food twice a day
  • sleeping soundly only for a few hours a night
  • drinking alcohol has increased to daily glasses of wine
  • losing her emotional grip towards her husband and kids.

Oh great Dana mumbles to herself. Not only do I have no job, I’m gaining weight and numbing my feelings with alcohol. What a mess!


Dana reaches out to a friend, and through many tears vents her holiday woes to her big-hearted friend Tammy. While Tammy offers her love and support to Dana, she also suggests professional coaching to help create a holiday plan. Dana reluctantly makes the call and is pleasantly surprised with the first exchange with coach. She learns that she can take control of the holidays so they don’t control her. Once she hears these words, something lightens up in Dana’s chest. After the call Dana chuckles to herself.

Maybe there is Ho, Ho, hope for me after all.

Dana has a holiday plan

“I choose all things merry and bright”. – Dana

With coach, Dana sorts through her feelings and behaviors. For the first time she can clearly see what has been happening in and around her. It’s time to set up healthy boundaries and prioritize what’s important and meaningful. Although she is skeptical and a bit terrified at the idea of changing the status quo, Dana is willing to explore fresh ideas and shift her usual response to situations. At the root of Dana’s stress is a sense of obligation which looms over her and makes her miserable.

Coach asks Dana if she’s interested in a misery-free holiday. Dana excitedly says “YES!” Coach then asks her to imagine what would her holidays look like and to write out her ideas. Pretty soon she realizes her thoughts and feelings are more than just holiday blues.

How do I let go of the “I have to”/guilt party?

  • Not going to mom’s house this year
  • Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while unwrapping gifts at home
  • Watching her family’s favorite holiday movie under warm blankets
  • Talking to family about Peace, Love and Joy
  • Calling mom and wishing her a happy holiday
  • Meditating and opening my heart
  • Understanding that holidays can be melancholy at times
  • Realizing that this holiday season may be challenging due to the job loss
  • Being open and honest with your ups and downs with my husband, coach and Tammy

Can I celebrate separate holidays with Norm and mom? We could go out and…

  • Enjoying a meal, just the two of us
  • Watching a movie or attend an event and have fun

What are my holiday expectations? My family’s? I want to…

  • Setting up a Martha Stewart holiday (Is this fantasy??)
  • Laughing and spreading holiday cheer
  • Gathering input from my immediate family
  • Being mindful around the tray of holiday cookies

What does holiday spirit means to me? Is it about…

  • Giving gifts
  • Being mindful and inspired
  • Appreciating life, relationships and possibilities
  • Feeling good
  • Making great memories

What will it take to let go of the past?

  • Rewriting the old stories from a place of compassion
  • Reframing future conversations with mom and Norm from a place of strength
  • Replacing inner wounds with inner healing
  • Being realistic and accept I can’t change anyone but myself
  • Forgiving myself, mom and Norm and stop assigning blame for holiday ruin

In what ways can I now cope with holiday stress as an adult vs. as a child?

  • Revisiting my approach to handling the holidays from a mature perspective
  • Aligning my choices and words with what matters to me
  • Giving myself permission to go with my own holiday flow
  • Moving forward with an open heart and mind

What is my holiday recovery plan?

  • Journaling what worked/didn’t work about the new holiday setup
  • Observing what low vibes showed up and how to resolve them
  • Rewarding myself for believing in something better for myself
  • Trusting my intuition to guide my words and behaviors

Dana feels much better after fresh answers and the potential to feel better about herself and her beloveds. Through the writing and coaching process, she realizes the many opportunities to grow and discover more about herself. She is committed to feeling less tortured and more invested in the magic of the season.

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