Setting Holiday Boundaries with Adult ADHD

Warm Layers for Cool Conversations

Published on
December 13, 2023

As we prepare the holiday season, one of the most important conversations to have is about boundaries and your comfort.

Perhaps your family doesn’t understand why you need conversation breaks, need to leave the party early, or why you get overwhelmed by certain types of questions or Aunt Linda.

Sometimes, the people we love most don’t understand what we need in order to enjoy the time with them. A lot of times, in these situations, neurodivergent people are told to “deal with it for just one day,” or to “not be difficult at dinner.” In other words, we’re forced to mask and repress ourselves, which can be stressful and draining - and can be a real buzzkill in what would otherwise be a pleasant gathering.

It’s unfair for you to have to shoulder the responsibility for everyone else’s comfort on your own rather than everyone else meeting you halfway. If you’re ready for change this season, here are some tips on how to keep your cool while the conversation heats up!

Bundle Yourself Up With Boundaries

In the spirit of the holiday, here’s a little winter metaphor to remember.

Imagine yourself dressed in a snuggly winter coat, fluffy mittens, a good thick beanie, and a solid pair of waterproof boots 🧤🧥🥾 – these are your boundaries.

❄️ Each family gathering becomes a little bit of a snowfall - beautiful, sometimes chilly, sometimes a brewing storm.

🔥 Your boundaries act as the warm layers that shield you from the frost bite of the storm - that long-lasting damage and pain.

Just like you wouldn't go into a snowstorm without a warm outfit, you shouldn’t navigate family expectations and festivities without your boundaries.

Hold ‘em tight! 🫂

If anything, or anyone, tries stir up a storm, your boundaries are a barrier against icy comments and chilling questions. 🥶

How To Assert Your Boundaries With ADHD

Setting boundaries is easier said than done, especially if you’ve never done so before in a particular environment. Concrete examples can serve as a great starting point for you to iterate off of - so, here are a few of our favorites.

  • The polite but hard "no." Remember: you aren’t obligated to take on more than you can carry, and you aren’t obligated to give a reason (though you can if you want!) Here are a few ways that could look in practice:

  • ~Them: “I think we should go to Uncle Rob’s after dinner”
  • ~You: “I won’t be able to go someone afterwards. But I hope everyone else has fun!”

  • ~Them: “You should change into something nicer. You’re hiding your body!”
  • ~You: “I’m okay in what I’m wearing and don’t want to change. Are you ready to leave?

  • ~Them: “Go give Aunt Jessica a hug. She hasn’t seen you in over a year.”
  • ~You: ”Thanks for the reminder. I’ll take care of who I’m going to greet and talk to. I’ve got it taken care of.”

Bonus Boundary Tips

If you’re anticipating a struggle with setting boundaries (either internally, or via pushback from others), or if you’re not sure what boundaries you need to set, these tips may help.

  • If possible, have an ally. If there’s someone in your family you think will understand your needs, talk with them beforehand on how they can support you - for example, support in exiting conversations, or with explaining to others what you’re struggling with. Here’s what that could look like:
  • ~I’m really struggling with remembering to take breaks and give myself a breather. Could you come get me every now and then to take a short walk outside?
  • ~I’m not ready to talk to Dad after what he said. If you see us talking, could you come interrupt the conversation or ask me to help you with something?
  • Schedule check-ins with yourself. Find key moments - like after dinner, before opening presents, or before heading out the door - to ask yourself some basic questions:
  • ~Do I need to take some deep breaths?
  • ~Am I feeling overwhelmed?
  • ~What do I need in this moment to feel okay?
  • Listen to your inner feelings. You might not be able to articulate why something is making you uncomfortable, but you can still set a boundary to steer clear of the subject or ask to talk to that person at another time. Again, you don’t need to justify it! You always can advocate for your comfort. For example:
  • ~Them: “You and Samantha have been together a while. Do you think she’s the one?”
  • ~You: “We have been together a while! But I would actually prefer to not have a conversation about my relationship tonight. I’ve actually been meaning to ask you about ____________.”

Conclusion ☃️

The season isn’t about making others happy - at least, not at the expense of your own happiness. It’s about sharing special moments together. You deserve to have a happy holiday just as much as anyone else. You should not have to put your needs on the backburner for someone else to enjoy their season. If you need to leave a conversation, change a subject, or refuse a question, we hope you know you have the right to protect yourself in that way.

You've got this!

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