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Set Boundaries For The Holidays

Written by: Dr. Sunayana Nature Baruah, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Dr. Sunayana Nature Baruah

Holidays, regardless of where you come from, what culture you belong to, or whatever festival you celebrate, fall at a time where we find ourselves being around people we are obliged to be in relationships with. This can lead to difficult dynamics forming, and uncomfortable topics that stir up emotions leaving us feeling exposed, unprepared, vulnerable, and not in a good way. The following are a few steps that you can take to better safeguard yourself emotionally in order to be at ease with yourself as well as have an easier relationship with your family members. You can execute the next few steps as a routine mental health check as you approach the holiday season and well into the new year.

Grandmother hugging her granddaughter on christmas at home

1. Identify your emotions

This means you can identify and name exactly what emotions you are feeling at any given point in time, especially with regards to your relationship with a certain family member(s). Even using one or two words to understand and vocalise to yourself what you are feeling goes a long way in helping us become emotionally regulated. A lot of times, I advise my clients in my private practice to use an emotion wheel as guidance as the one attached below:

wheel of guidance

2. Validate your emotions

This means that you do not have to apologise, dismiss nor minimise your emotions. What you can do is, know that there is always a reason behind why we feel what we feel. At any given point in time, this is important to help ourselves understand our emotions and ourselves better. Research also shows that when we label or identify our emotions, we actually stabilise the functioning of the emotion centre of our brains; the amygdala to become more stable and get ourselves to feel calmer.

3. Find your vulnerable emotions

As you could see on the emotion wheel, there are levels of emotions that we feel:

a. Secondary emotions (two outer rings of the wheel)such as worried, frustration, guilt, embarrassed, etc. b. Primary emotions (innermost ring of the wheel) are the emotions that underlie secondary emotions such as surprised, angry, sad, happy, etc.

For example, when we feel that our opinions do not matter in a conversation, or when we feel unheard in a loud family exchange; we may feel frustrated and we might want to lash out. But instead, we can dig deeper and identify our emotions as feeling rejected and isolated and not good enough when this happens to us. It is important to find the primary emotions attached to these such as sadness and anger because then we are able to better empathise with ourselves. There is always a reason we feel what we feel.

4. Finding out the ‘why?’ behind our primary emotions

Asking ourselves “What made me feel this way?” is important to understand the sources of our primary emotions. This can actually stop us from blaming others for making us feel a certain way. This is because we realise that our brain associated another event from the past when we also felt a similar sense of rejection or frustration. This feeling from the past led us to feeling the same emotions and act in the same way again in a different situation in the here and now.

5. Giving yourself the time

Take the time to process all of the above steps and then pick out a calmer, more stable time and place to communicate your emotions to a family member with whom you are experiencing a strained relationship. At times, this might also mean removing yourself physically from a difficult, unsafe dynamic and then coming back to it with a calm mind full of intention to reduce hurt and misunderstanding and communicate what you felt and what made you feel a certain way.

6. Use “I” statements

There is a huge difference between using ‘I’ statements and ‘You’ statements. ‘You’ statements make people defensive as they feel blamed for making you feel a certain way. Using “I” statements help the other person understand the impact of their words and actions on you and instead helps them empathise with you. Instead of saying,” You made me feel this way!” say, “I feel ridiculed and inadequate when my single status is constantly up for discussion.”

An ‘I’ statement is less aggressive and confrontational. It focuses on the speaker, you take full responsibility for your own feelings.

7. Solution oriented conversations

This can also can help repair hurt in relationships, finding practical, achievable solutions. For example, saying, “If you think I do not call enough, can we find a fixed time to phone during the week so that we both have it set in our schedules and that we don’t miss each other’s calls?”

8. Choosing when to communicate your emotions and with whom

At times, there could be situations when the other person with whom you are trying to set boundaries and have a healthier relationship with, might not care about your feelings. Such people are not the ones you want to share your feelings and be vulnerable with. You might want to reconsider them being a part of your life. People who care about you, are emotionally invested in your well-being will always make the time to empathise with you. They will care about your feelings and be mindful of the impact of their behaviours on you. The goal when it comes to boundary setting is to keep yourself safe and for you to create a relationship with another person in which your basic emotional needs of trust, being respected and valued, feeling free, safe, accepted and love are met through communicating them effectively.

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Dr. Sunayana Nature Baruah Brainz Magazine

Dr. Sunayana Nature Baruah, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Sunayana Nature Baruah or Su as she calls herself is a licensed Clinical & Counselling Psychologist working in France. She graduated from the Professional Doctorate programme in Counselling Psychology of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. She is a Chartered Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association(IPA). She has worked with adults of all age groups in hospitals, primary care clinics and private practices across India, Ireland and now in France. She has extensively worked with people who had experienced trauma in their lives as well as eating disorders and body image issues. Her motto: Mental health is health.



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