Surviving the Holidays – Part 3

Before we continue, here is point #3 about being an adult around your parents during the holidays:

3. You can set boundaries and say “No,” to your parents even if you get a poor response.

Let’s begin by reviewing what boundaries are all about. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written extensively on the topic of boundaries. The following overview is taken from the book by Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal. He devotes a chapter to the subject of boundaries.


Setting boundaries requires the ability to maintain one’s own identity and selfhood while connecting with others. An intimate relationship needs vulnerability and closeness as well as the freedom to move apart and be separate. In a healthy relationship, each person is supportive and encourages the uniqueness and growth of the other. In other words, closeness does not equal sameness. Boundaries are not about telling other people what they can and cannot do. You cannot control anyone but yourself. Boundaries explain to others what your response will be to their attitudes, behaviors and actions. “Dad I want you to know if your language gets foul when we are visiting we will have to take the kids and leave. Our desire is to have a great visit and enjoy each other.”


Thinking about a relationship with no (or few) boundaries will help in understanding boundaries. An enmeshed or fused relationship is an unhealthy bond in which boundaries are violated and any individuality, separateness, or differences are viewed as a threat and are not easily tolerated. Dependence may be exaggerated and the ability to function independently is limited. Can your parents let you be different from them in your values, views, opinions or choices? Can you peacefully agree to disagree?


If you have difficulty setting boundaries with your parents (or in general), here are some feelings you may experience.

  1. You may feel as if you are owned by others and cannot say “No,” to a request.
  2. You will be confused over who’s responsible for what. You will assume responsibility for others feelings, attitudes, and behavior. You may also believe that others are responsible for how you feel and behave.
  3. People who have problems with boundaries often feel they have the power to control the emotions of others. They think, “I can make everyone happy if I just try hard enough. If others aren’t happy it is my fault.” Are you overly responsible for your parent’s happiness?


Here are some symptoms you will notice as an adult if you did not learn to say, “No”, think for yourself, make decisions and develop your own understanding of who you are.

  1. You may have a sense of confusion or disorientation toward life feeling scattered, double minded, and confused. You will allow others to be the master of your life.
  2. You may feel trapped with few choices, often in a “no win” situation. If you think about it you are probably very afraid of rejection.
  3. Over time your “over-giving” will cause anger, bitterness and resentment.Sometimes, resentment may be manifested in health problems. While you are always doing for others, you receive little in return. As an adult, you are not good at knowing what you need or asking others to help you.
  4. You may experience depression, panic, or become exhausted if you cannot set boundaries. A person without boundaries often does not confront problems or set limits on the bad behavior of others. Tolerating way to much from others can bring on negative emotions over time.


  1. Fear of aloneness. Perhaps you may have experienced abandonment and will give up many parts of yourself to keep from feeling alone.
  2. Idolatry. When another person becomes indispensable and rejection feels intolerable, something is wrong.
  3. Guilt. Others may know how to manipulate you and withdraw love any time you move toward healthy separateness. If being independent in any way is tied to a loss of love and you are made to feel guilty when you try to be your own person.
  4. You believe you love others when in fact you are enabling. Enabling is taking responsibility for another’s feelings, behaviors or choices that are rightfully theirs. You may enable another to be irresponsible by taking responsibility for their attitudes, feelings and actions. Giving to an abusive person who denies responsibility for their bad choices makes the problem worse. If you don’t set limits on bad, unhealthy or even evil behavior, it only gets greater.


  1. Learn to choose non-controlling people to bond with. Have more than one supportive relationship so when you feel rejected for setting limits you will have other people who can support you through it. This is very important.
  2. Learn to say no! Postpone an immediate yes. Rather say, “Let me give it some thought and I will get back to you with my answer.”
  3. When you begin saying no, you will have an abundance of this strange new possession; time for yourself! Use this time to develop yourself, your interests and the talents God has given you.
  4. Learn to tolerate the rejection or disapproval that may come with having your own voice.

Can you say, “No,” to your parents? Can you tolerate their disapproval if you make a choice they don’t agree with? Can you calmly hold to your opinion when your parents pressure you to think the same way you think? Can you stand up for your spouse if your parents are unkind to them? Can you tell your parents you are responsible for how you discipline your kids?

We are not saying our parents don’t have wise advice that we can benefit from at times. We are asking, can we be our own person, an adult with a voice around our parents? If not, predict one thing that will likely happen as you engage with your parents and practice how you would set a boundary. Role play before the event. Then when the opportunity arises, say it!