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3 Steps to Set Boundaries for the Holiday Season with Difficult Family Members

How to Set Boundaries for the Holiday Season with Difficult Family Members

This week on the podcast, I interviewed Jamie Molnar for a two-part series that came in by request via form on our website. (Did you know, you can submit topic requests on the contact us page of our website?) Someone submitted a question, asking if we could have someone on that talks about how to set boundaries with difficult, manipulative or even narcissistic family members throughout the Christmas and holiday season.

Well friends, do I have a treat for you. This podcast episode was amazing and so helpful. To listen to the full episode, click HERE.

A little about our special guest Jamie: Jamie Molnar is a licensed therapist and has 15 years of clinical experience. She works primarily with clients that grew up in alcoholic family systems, have been children of narcissistic parents and people who struggle as adults. She helps people who are empaths and HSPs, which are common traits of those that grew up in dysfunctional or unsafe family systems.

Jamie explains that first and foremost, most people have difficult or dysfunction in their family. She says that everyone comes to the table with their own baggage, then things get heated and we throw it all at each other. One month of holiday celebration should not lead to a year of healing and recovery.

What is narcissism: According to Mayo Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

One thing to note is that narcissism is actually a spectrum. Everyone is on that spectrum, on one end, everyone can display narcissistic behaviors from time to time, and on the other end, it can be a full-blown diagnosable condition. According to the Mayo Clinic Neuroscientist think that Narcissism can be genetic or environmental or neurobiological in nature. In other words, it can be a learned behavior based on childhood trauma, neglect or excessive or doting parenting, it can be inherited characteristics from parents, or connections between the brain, behavior and thinking that developed over time, likely in childhood.

My biggest takeaway from our conversation is that you can use a three-step approach for difficult conversations or the pushy family members:

Step 1: Beforehand, prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for likely triggers

Step 2: During the Christmas party, have rehearsed boundaries or responses for when someone crosses a line.

You probably know, what will happen. The same people, do the same things, over and over again. So, you can be prepared for inappropriate comments with pre-planned and practiced responses. It helps to say them out loud in the mirror. For example: “We don’t talk like that here”, “that comment was rude and inappropriate” or “I’m not going to talk about that right now”.

Step 3: After the fact, use journaling to process through anything that was upsetting or concerning

Want the journaling prompts that I use? Just click HERE

One thing to keep in mind is that if conversations at a party or event becomes downright abusive (mentally, emotionally, or physically) then it’s important to have an exit plan. This can simply be, have a limiting factor.

For example:

Time bound: We will go for one hour, then we have to leave.

Person bound: We will go early, when so-and-so gets there, we will leave.

Conversation bound: When someone starts talking badly about me, my children, or others, we leave. (This can also include other triggering conversations, such as politics, religion, sexuality, finances, etc.)

Alcohol or drug tolerance bound: If drugs are present, we leave. After the fifth bottle of wine opens, we leave. After so-and-so gets loud and pushy, we leave.

Contingent on how we feel: If someone feels uncomfortable (in any way), we leave.

For these types of exit plans, it helps to talk about with your family unit, make sure everyone is on board and practice saying “I see X,Y,Z happening, we are going to go” or just “well, time to go, Merry Christmas everyone” and do not apologize.

This podcast was so good and taught me so many helpful tools to set boundaries and enforce boundaries for my family unit among extended family.

These tools work in any situation, be sure to practice what you are going to say. Remember, to use a firm tone, and a confident and non-negotiable attitude. Boundaries are possible and you can set them with some planning and practice.

Not sure you can do it by yourself? Find a counselor in your area at or visit

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