Holidays Are a Time For Boundaries


The upcoming holiday season will be a time for celebration as family and friends gather together sharing laughter, memories and long standing traditions. It is meant to be a time of happiness shared with those we love the most. Yet for abuse survivors the holiday season is often anything but a time for celebration.

We are faced with the obligation of attending or hosting a family gathering whether or not we feel comfortable in doing so. Knowing that an unsupportive or abusive family member will also be attending the same gathering instantly makes us feel uneasy. We rack our brain trying to come up with reasons why we can’t attend or host a family event. We casually mention our opposition to other family members as a way to test the waters of public opinion so to speak. This is often met with an unsympathetic ‘oh it will be fun’ type of response.

We build up the courage needed to listen to our gut feelings and stand our ground. Yet we somehow quiet these feelings and attend or host the gathering anyway. As soon as the gathering begins we find ourselves looking for a quick exit out the front door, even if we are in our own home.

We find ourselves in these situations because of one simple word: boundaries. As abuse survivors boundaries are one of those tough issues that we struggle with because we have virtually no experience with them. Setting boundaries and having them respected was a luxury we were not afforded in our abusive environment. Everything we said or did, and in some cases even our bodies, were on display without our consent. We were humiliated, ridiculed and made to feel guilty and shameful for wanting a little personal space or to not attend a function that made us feel uneasy.

We learned that boundaries were not something we deserved in life.

So now we find ourselves facing the upcoming holiday season and its accompanying social gatherings with family. We know we should stand our ground about not attending or hosting events we are uncomfortable with yet we are lost! We question if setting boundaries makes us appear rude or hurtful. We worry how others will respond. We struggle with the thought that perhaps our actions in staying away are making us abusive to our family.

So what are we to do?

If there is a family gathering that you are dreading attending this year, don’t go. If you are feeling obligated to host a holiday gathering at your home, don’t do it. Giving in to either of these situations will only result in you experiencing deep feelings of regret, guilty and anxiety. Each event will stir up a familiar ‘walking on egg shells’ feeling and instead of celebrating you will spend the time in ‘fight or flight’ mode as you stand ready to protect yourself from any mistreatment and judgmental or abusive action that comes your way.

This is not what the holidays are suppose to be about. When an invitation to that family gathering or the opportunity to host an event in your home arrives, calmly decline. No further explanation is needed to anyone. Your boundaries are your boundaries, no questions asked. There will be a few family members who won’t understand. That is their problem, not yours. In the event they have negative or abusive things to say about your decision, walk away, hang up the phone or ignore the text without even reading it.

When you start to feel uneasy remember that you deserve to put boundaries in place and have those boundaries respected. Yes this means that you are going to have to take a step outside of your comfort box. You are also going to have to put yourself before others for the first time. You are going to have to stand your ground and not give in to the pressures or complaints of anyone else.

You are entitled to set boundaries that make us feel safe from further abuse or humiliation, in order to gain peace in our lives. It will be hard at first but just keep telling yourself that you deserve to be respected and feel loved. This year let’s stand together and help one another have a holiday season filled with laughter and smiles, not tears and anxiety!

4 thoughts on “Holidays Are a Time For Boundaries

  1. Empowering words here. So many of us feel an obligation to see our family during the holidays even if we normally wouldn’t and then have a horrible night and a horrible few days/few weeks/few months (whatever it takes) to get over it. Abusers can be that nasty on the holidays.

    I personally don’t deal with this issue anymore because I’m no-contact with my abusers, but I remember the agony of family holidays when I was around them. I feel for all abuse survivors who have a hard time setting boundaries around the holidays. Hopefully some will gain courage to do so this year from your post.


    • Aprel Phelps Downey says:

      Hello Rainbow,

      Thank you for your kind words about my article! Writing is my way of working through all the issues that comes with being a child abuse survivor. So hearing that my words empower other survivors is a tremendous compliment!

      The ‘setting boundaries’ issue is such a hard thing to do any time we try. I think the holidays make it extra tough because we feel that ‘sense of obligation’ weight on our shoulders to appear happy and celebrate with family. Everywhere we turn this time of year we are bombarded with images of happy families celebrating. It tends to make us hopeful that maybe this year things will be different. So we go to the family gathering and are quickly disappointed. The recovery time for the disappointment, like you said, can take awhile and it just hurts! We need to set boundaries as a way to protect ourselves even though it is one of the hardest things we will ever do. Together we can all help one another stay strong!


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