Holiday boundaries can conflict with traditions now that holiday gatherings are upon us again. Hallmark cards depict mom and dad and a couple of cherub-cheeked children warming themselves by a fire. Or sledding, shopping, baking cookies, visiting Santa or … any traditions that go along with the holidays. When seasonal images of togetherness don’t match up with boundaries to limit toxic family interactions, then what?

Holiday Boundaries Are Needed Because Some Emotions Can’t Be Ignored

Trauma, grief and addiction aren’t feelings that can be neatly tucked away during times of festivity. When a family member’s behavior requires detachment in families whose holiday traditions are steeped in … well… can we honor the traditions while still maintaining our boundaries?

Creating new traditions around loss (either a family member who has passed away, or is currently banished) can be healthy and help us move forward. Some family members are not safe to be around, accepting that reality works better than trying to force everyone to get together for the sake of the holiday,

Creating detachment from family members is no easy task. Vacillating, second guessing and giving more chances often sabotages even the most resolute among us. Add to that the pressures of holiday family gatherings and all the happy memories, and the boundaries that took so long to put in place begin to crumble like cookies.

Avoid The Tradition Of Turning A Blind Eye

However, if we realize that the tradition of turning a blind eye because of the holidays has been a choice, we understand that we can choose differently while still maintaining the boundary and the tradition. Smudging boundaries leaves family traditions in ruins because we want the holiday to be the way it was and the person to be the way they were before whatever happened that caused the need for space and detachment. It serves no one to create resentment around festivities meant to draw people together.

Family members can be honored and remembered in many ways throughout the season, even while maintaining healthy holiday boundaries.

  1. Make a place setting at the table for your loved one who is absent.
  2. Donate to a favorite charity in their honor.
  3. Support their choices from a distance and without voicing your opinion.
  4. Doing whatever it takes. Being present without directing sometimes means not being physically in their presence.
  5. Standing back and giving someone else the space to figure things out for themselves is a way of letting the other person know that you trust them. Trust is a big gift.
  6. Remember the way it used to be, but choose the way it is now. Choice doesn’t victimize – it empowers.

When we empower others by leaning back with our support, instead of leaning in and being the director, we are gifting them with our respect and our unconditional love. And isn’t love the basis of family traditions, after all?


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Elizabeth Viszt
Elizabeth is a certified Educational Specialist and Success Coach. She has a BA, MS in biology with a concentration in ethology (animal behavior), is an EAGALA Equine Specialist in equine assisted learning and personal development, and has extensive personal leadership skills. She spent much of her career in education at the high school, college and correctional facility levels teaching biology & chemistry and acting in the capacity of a success coach. Elizabeth presents workshops and seminars which address communication issues as they manifest in personal relationships. She uses writing as both a creative and cathartic outlet, especially after losing both of her parents to cancer in 2015. She lives in upstate NY, on a farm that bears the name of her motto: Be Unreasonable! She's invested in empowering others in moving their pieces forward in the world.


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