Setting Healthy Boundaries This Holiday Season

There’s a little bit of what a case manager does in all of us. The intrinsic caring and listening, the emotional support we bring to friends or family in need, the word of mouth referrals to a therapist we really like or an organization in town that we know can help. It’s innate human nature to want to help and comfort. Biologically speaking, research shows that the act of caring (emotionally/physically/relational) speeds up the healing process, but when thinking about it from a personal perspective, caring also has the ability to drain you of energy and emotions. For that reason we’ve created a short list of helpful strategies for coping with vulnerability hangovers, family issues and other common themes that arise when families unite throughout the year and holiday season.

How to support someone who discloses abuse:

  • Believe Them: Abuse and/or trauma can happen to anyone. Believing someone is one of the biggest factors that contribute to someone reaching out and accessing resources and can fast track the road to overcoming those obstacles. Offer them support and direct them towards services in your community that can help them process what has happened. “I am so sorry you are going through this, how can I support you best?”
  • Don’t Shame or Blame: The stigma of abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault in our community prevents people from reaching out and accessing services. If someone discloses their experience to you be supportive, validate their experience, offer comfort and reassurance that that experience does not define them. Tell them that there are whole organizations dedicated to helping people through the very thing that they experienced and that you can put them in touch.
  • Refer them to a professional: Supporting someone through their experience can be exhausting. A professional counselor, therapist or case manager will be better equipped with the resources necessary to help your loved one AND they are better equipped with the support systems and tools necessary to manage the stress and weight of helping people through these experiences. While it’s important to be supportive, it is also important to take care of your own health and wellbeing and to set up healthy boundaries. Often times organizations will also have support groups for family members who wish to find out more about ways of supporting their loved one.
  • Take Care of Yourself: You can’t help a loved one if you haven’t cared for yourself first. It’s completely normal to feel drained and exhausted after listening to someone’s story, accompanying them to an appointment or just living through it with them. Don’t be afraid to set up healthy boundaries when you feel like it’s building up, you can always choose to ask your loved one to let you take a walk while you process everything or set up a time limit for the conversation to take place. Say something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for being so vulnerable with me and for sharing what you went through, I feel a little overwhelmed by it all and I am feeling so many things but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. I just need a little time to process it. Would you be okay if we took a silent walk together or if I took one on my own?” Remember that you can’t offer comfort if you are in distress. 

What to do if you disclosed too much:

We’ve all been there, we spend all year trying to hold it all together and come the holidays it comes spilling out. The next day we feel embarrassed and ashamed of everything we said, our good friend Brene Brown, author of I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t) calls it the vulnerability hangover. So what do you do now?

  • Be kind to yourself: we all have things in our lives that we feel ashamed to talk about, know that nobody is perfect and use that to help make a safe space for yourself. If it feels right, don’t be afraid to follow-up the conversation with by acknowledging your feelings of discomfort and reaching out for help or thanking the person for listening.
  • Look at the big picture: Sometimes stepping back and looking at things from a different perspective helps us understand that there are many things out of our control. What is it that if fueling those feelings of shame? Where are they coming from? Who benefits from them?
  • Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself first: We all know it, families have baggage. Whether it’s intergenerational trauma, shame around religion, abuse between family members or even someone’s inability to listen to an opinion other than their own, it’s not your job to fix it. Sometimes that means taking a walk or leaving the family dinner, it’s okay for you to take a step back, take a breath and if you feel up for it, go back to the dinner / family event. Practicing critical awareness about our feelings is essential to healing. Leaving the dinner or event does not make you weak, it allows you to put yourself and your feelings at the center of your life.

 We hope that you all have a safe, happy and healthy boundary filled holiday season!


The Peace House Case Management Team

Source: The Biology of Caring: Researching the Healing Effects of Stress Response Regulation Through Relational Engagement