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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Establishing Boundaries

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

Once the holidays are over and the resolutions are made, the new year continues. Although time has a way of moving on, our thoughts are sometimes stuck in the past. Have you caught yourself thinking about how a friend or family member behaved, or something they said during the holidays? Perhaps you had different expectations of them or of yourself in that instance? A growth mindset is when we take a moment to reflect on our thoughts or feelings after an emotional experience so we can learn from it.

Dealing with family members is particularly complicated during the holiday season. We come together during these joyful times and carry along our baggage of complicated emotions and confusion. It is during these times that the relationships with our extended family are held under a magnifying glass and kept inside of a pressure cooker. As we all know, this is a recipe for disaster.

Over the last couple of years, the pandemic and political climate have caused many individuals to reassess their relationships with family and friends. Some have come to the realization that they do not need nor want a large social circle. This sentiment has been addressed in social media posts, magazines, and journal articles. Some groups of people even created selective pandemic pods, resulting in them spending more time with likeminded individuals. Because of these changes, many have expressed a relief in not feeling obligated to attend massive holiday gatherings. Some even enjoyed their time at home or with a limited group of family and friends whom they felt most comfortable with.

It has become normalized to decline invitations for safety reasons during the pandemic. Risk of spreading the virus has become a socially acceptable explanation for not attending parties and other large gatherings. Many people have used this as an excuse to avoid certain relatives because they find them too negative, intrusive, or offensive. This excuse, however, is bound to expire, and we will soon have to face the difficult people that we have been avoiding all along. We all experience family issues at some point or another and as with most relationships, it is important for us to work through our differences before calling it quits. Toxic or abusive relationships, on the other hand, will need to be confronted in order to create healthy boundaries for ourselves and our loved ones.

Families constantly go through transitions, such as moving, marriages, divorces, children, and passings. Because of these changes, it can be challenging to hold onto traditions that bring the entire family together. The hope is that transitions will lead to new traditions and either maintain or renew relationships between family members. This is seen in families where children enter adulthood and start families of their own. Families often use this as an opportunity to hand over the torch to the next generation to plan holidays, dinners, and other annual events. It can be a seamless transition where it appears that no effort is needed to continue on with the tradition. In other instances, families may eventually experience the end of an extended family tradition which oftentimes result in smaller family units creating their own traditions. Extended families may still get together for bigger life events such as marriages, births, and funerals, while holidays, birthdays and vacations become smaller and more intimate.

In some families, there is an anchor, or a the backbone of the family. Usually the eldest, he or she is the one who is reliable, the voice of reason, and the keeper of traditions. In my line of work, I have witnessed a continuance of family traditions when there is a strong and positive female role model at the head of the family. This role model carries high expectations for the health of the family and is someone who emphasizes the importance of tradition and family ties. Because of tradition, individuals may put their opinions aside for the evening and join the extended family for the holidays.

How do extended families communicate in an assertive manner and have effective discussions without the presence of an anchor?

Although we may have less control over the choices and behaviors of our extended family, we do have control over ourselves, our thoughts, and our behaviors, and this can have a direct impact on our immediate family and ultimately our extended family. We can model open communication and use a non-judgmental approach to these relationships. If we reflect on our own perspectives, we can better understand our own expectations for ourselves and for others. This understanding can help us create and maintain healthy boundaries with our family members by being more assertive rather than being reactive or aggressive. Assertiveness is the ability to advocate for yourself in a positive, growth mindset manner. The goal is to make your needs known while being respectful of the person you are dealing with.

Worksheet to Help Establish Boundaries

Take a moment to assess the expectations for ourselves and of others.

1. Download and print the worksheets (below).

2. Think of a person that holds significance in your life. This can be someone who you are close with that you feel crosses boundaries from time-to-time.

3. Reflect: What are my expectations of them and myself, and how will I establish healthy boundaries?

4. Write: Record your thoughts and feelings in the space provided.

A growth mindset requires reflection in order to gain perspective as well as a desire to move forward. This writing activity is a part of the journey. Please leave your comments below on how this process worked for you.

Boundaries Worksheet - Creative Expressions Consulting - Art Therapy by Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC
Download • 407KB


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:

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