How often is “yes” your first instinct when someone asks you out for post-work cocktails even though a recovery night in (with at least three episodes of your Netflix show of choice) was your preferred itinerary? Yes: Figuring out how to set boundaries is hard.
Take that scenario and multiply it by ten when you apply it to spending time with family over the holidays (see: answering the same questions over and over about your personal life, financial decisions, and career choices). Suddenly, you’re dealing with a scenario where boundaries feel not just important, but necessary for your sanity.
The good news is that this is that setting limits is actually a positive thing. “A boundary is a bid for closeness,” says Lia Avellino, director of head and heart THE WELL, who spoke recently on this very topic at our Wellness Collective event with Athleta. “It’s not a distancing effect—it’s a meeting place.”
So, contrary to popular belief, nailing how to set boundaries isn’t about keeping people out—but letting them in by finding a way for more meaningful connection.
To start setting these limits, Avellino suggests practicing saying “yes” slowly and “no” quickly. But giving a firm negative can be tough, especially because women have been conditioned to be agreeable, says Avellino. To try it, she had event attendees partner up and ask an intimate question (one that people wouldn’t ask a complete stranger) and presented four solutions:
1. First, just a straight no—without any clarification or justification needed. (Try it—the empowerment might become addicting.)
2. The second is to redirect the conversation by casually bringing up another topic. This strategy lets you keep things breezy without directly acknowledging your conversation partner’s faux pas.
3. Next, she suggests something along the lines of, “I don’t really feel like talking about this, but I would love to know how work is going for you.” This tactic combines being straight forward (letting them know the topic is off limits) with a polite redirect.
4. And the final option is consequence—as in, “If you keep talking about this specific subject, I’ll have to leave the room.” This is reserved for when you’re dealing with an extremely persistent family member who isn’t respecting your privacy and stated boundaries.
Regardless, keep these four no’s in your back pocket the next time you head home for the holidays, and remember that boundaries aren’t just beneficial for you, they’re instrumental in growing your relationships.
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