At this time of year, I hear from many people battling against what they perceive as the weighty expectations of their nearest and dearest about Christmas/The Holidays. In their heart of hearts, they don’t want to agree to the request, obligation, or assumed expectation. Yet based on this notion that because they, for instance, go to Aunt Flo’s every year or because they are somebody’s child and hence must obey even if they’re a parent themselves or simply old enough to be an actual adult, they don’t feel as if they have a choice. They don’t believe that they can decline because they’ve previously accepted.

This struggle is the same as what we wrestle with about asserting boundaries and saying no. 

It’s as if we have ‘one shot’. Whatever we agree to, whether stated by us or inferred by our apparent lack of resistance, we think it removes our right to ‘change our mind’. In simple terms, we believe that previously agreeing to something means we have no right to later account for our needs, expectations, desires, feelings, and opinions.

Does the fact that somebody crossed our boundaries give them the right to continue doing so? 

No one is entitled to disrespect us just because they previously benefited from our lack of self-esteem, awareness, or even foresight about what certain behaviours or decisions mean. That entitlement does not exist regardless of how we manage our boundaries.

Integrity dictates a person’s character and actions, not opportunity.

The fact that someone encounters somebody who isn’t managing their boundaries that well doesn’t give them the right to exploit this.

What should we do when we realise we no longer want to be or do something? Pretend that we don’t know better? Surely, we are allowed to grow and make aligned choices? Acting as if we have no right of reply or to take action even if delayed limits our options. We worry about offending others due to the situation no longer working for us.

We worry too much about offending!

Whether we say yes to something fair and reasonable or compromising, no one has the right to continue receiving that yes. We are entitled to reconsider instead of feeling we must enter into a permanent tacit agreement.

Our resistance to updating our nos and boundaries taps into the issue of complacency. We avoid this painful pattern when we remain conscious, aware, and present and don’t take it for granted that we can go on autopilot and that people will say and do whatever we expect. Autopilot and complacency just put us in a fantasy world where we end up feeling disappointed that people haven’t lived up to the pictures we’ve painted in our minds.

We have to continue to show up. The people in our lives have to continue to show up.

When this happens, neither person expects the other to show up as a yes-person. Instead, they care about the other person’s feelings and are aware of their own.

Okay, so let’s come back to this whole Christmas/The Holidays malarkey. If we’ve done the same thing year after year and it’s not ‘doing it’ for us anymore, its okay to take a breather. At the very least, it’s okay to acknowledge that these agreements arent enjoyable when they feel forced.

Sometimes, we go into these arrangements like the sulking, skulking kid who doesn’t want to go on holiday with their annoying parents or be caught in the same room. We go into child mode and hand over our authority to decide what we’ll do. Really, who the hell is going to enjoy anything entered into like that? I know so many people who brace themselves for this time of year. It’s like they expect to have teeth pulled without anaesthetic! If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we create Dynasty levels of drama in our minds about this stuff because it’s easier than admitting that we can do something about things and take action.

It’s why so many people get drunk and lairy or get into what, in retrospect, appear to be petty arguments at these ‘festivities’. It’s all the suppressed feelings and thoughts. It’s also an excellent time to remember that most people don’t have a family like The Brady Bunch.

There is no rule that says that you ‘should’ suffer through what may be a very unenjoyable gathering.

Ultimately, you could still decide to do [the Christmas/The Holidays arrangement] you’ve been struggling with. However, you’ll stop struggling with it when you choose from a grown-up place rather than almost victimising yourself and dragging your feet. You’ll stop feeling shortchanged due to people not paying up the ‘debt’ created by you going along to get along. You might even surprise yourself by enjoying it. Like when we drag our heels about going somewhere and end up having a great time. Obviously, if you go somewhere hellbent on not enjoying it or coming from a place of, Everyone is out to get meor I’m the odd one out, then lo and behold, that’s what you’ll look for and behave like.

If you make different arrangements, it’s not to say that the other parties won’t feel disappointed.

Still, the sky isn’t going to fall down. It’s likely as well that, on some level, they’ve been half-expecting it, even if they won’t admit it. Remember, there’s always next year. Acknowledging how you truly feel means you can commit and plan for change. It’s something to look forward to. You can also let the ‘stakeholders’ know. This way, they have time to get used to your decision or make their own plans.

Unless you want to continue to put the past on repeat, it’s time to stop living there! Base the decision to be or do something on the present, not the past. Decide based on now because you’re not the person you were ‘back then’. Acknowledge who you are now.

Just because you’ve been or done something previously doesn’t mean that you should or indeed have to do so again. Once you liberate yourself from the obligation to bust your boundaries and remove no from your vocabulary, you will feel much more in command of yourself and your life instead of being swept along.

Your thoughts?

For more help with boundaries and saying yes and no more authentically, check out my latest book, The Joy of Saying No.
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