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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Establishing Boundaries

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC, MHC-LP

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

Once the holidays have passed and the resolutions are set in motion, the new year unfolds. Time inevitably moves forward, yet our minds sometimes remain entangled in the past. Have you ever caught yourself dwelling on how a friend or family member behaved, or something they said during the holiday season? Maybe you had different expectations for them or for yourself in that particular moment? Embracing a growth mindset entails taking a moment to reflect on our thoughts and emotions after such experiences, allowing us to learn and grow.

Navigating interactions with family members during the holiday season can be exceptionally intricate. As we gather together during these joyful times, we carry the baggage of complex emotions and confusion. Our relationships with extended family members come under a magnifying glass and are confined within the confines of a pressure cooker. It's a recipe for disaster, and we've all witnessed a fallout.

In recent years, the pandemic and the political climate have prompted many individuals to reevaluate their connections with family and friends. Some have come to the realization that they don't necessarily need or want a vast social circle. This sentiment has been echoed in social media posts, magazines, and journal articles. Certain groups have even formed selective pandemic pods, opting to spend more time with like-minded individuals. Consequently, many have expressed relief in not feeling obligated to attend massive holiday gatherings. Instead, they enjoyed the company of a limited group of family and friends with whom they felt most at ease.

During the pandemic, declining invitations for safety reasons became the norm. The risk of spreading the virus provided a socially acceptable excuse for avoiding parties and large gatherings. For some, this also became an escape from dealing with certain relatives they found too negative, intrusive, or offensive. However, this excuse will inevitably expire, and we will have to face the difficult people we've been avoiding. Family issues are an inherent part of life, and like any relationship, it's essential for us to work through our differences before considering calling it quits. In cases of toxic or abusive relationships, though, confrontation becomes necessary to establish healthy boundaries for ourselves and our loved ones.

Families are constantly in flux, undergoing various transitions like moving, marriages, divorces, welcoming new children, and facing the loss of loved ones. These changes can make it challenging to preserve long-standing traditions that once brought the entire family together. Yet, amidst these transformations, there remains a hope that transitions will lead to the creation of new traditions and a revitalization of relationships between family members. This is particularly evident when children grow into adulthood and start their own families, presenting an opportunity to pass the torch to the next generation, empowering them to take charge of planning holidays, dinners, and other annual events seamlessly, as if the tradition has always lived within them.

However, not all transitions are effortless. Some families may eventually experience the end of certain extended family traditions, leading to the formation of smaller family units that craft their own unique customs. Nevertheless, even as the extended family traditions evolve, they often come together for significant life events such as marriages, births, and funerals, maintaining a sense of connection. Meanwhile, holidays, birthdays, and vacations may become more intimate affairs, fostering deeper bonds within immediate family circles.

Within many families, there is often an anchor, typically embodied by the eldest member, who serves as the backbone of the family. This person is the dependable rock, the voice of reason, and the keeper of cherished traditions. From my experience, I have observed that when there is a strong and positive female role model at the helm of the family, these traditions tend to continue and thrive. This influential figure sets high expectations for the family's well-being and places great emphasis on the importance of upholding tradition and honoring family ties. Under the guidance of such a matriarch, individuals are more willing to put their personal opinions aside for the greater good, coming together with extended family during special occasions like holidays, where the shared sense of tradition and belonging prevails.

While we may not have direct control over the choices and actions of our extended family members, we do have agency over our own thoughts and behaviors, which can significantly impact both our immediate and extended family dynamics. By modeling open communication and adopting a non-judgmental approach, we can foster healthier relationships within the extended family circle. Taking a moment to reflect on our own perspectives allows us to better understand our expectations for ourselves and others, enabling us to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with family members assertively, rather than reacting with aggression.

Assertiveness plays a crucial role in advocating for ourselves in a positive, growth-oriented manner while respecting the individuals we interact with. To aid in this process, I have prepared a worksheet designed to help you establish boundaries effectively:

Worksheet: Establish Boundaries

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

  1. Download and print the provided worksheets.

  2. Identify a significant person in your life, someone with whom you share a close relationship, but who occasionally crosses boundaries.

  3. Engage in self-reflection: Consider your expectations of this person and of yourself in the relationship, and contemplate how you can establish healthy boundaries.

  4. Document your thoughts and feelings in the designated space on the worksheet.

The practice of adopting a growth mindset involves continuous reflection and a genuine desire to progress. This writing activity serves as a vital step on your journey to healthier family dynamics. Feel free to share your insights and experiences in the comments below; your feedback will contribute to the collective learning process. Let us embark on this journey together, fostering stronger connections and creating a supportive family environment for all.

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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