We welcome back Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT to our guest blog series!

This week, she shares three steps for setting boundaries during the holidays as you navigate grief. If you’d like to connect with Brittany with questions of your own, here’s a good place to start:

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Around this time of year, the holiday season, the world typically sounds like:

“Happy Holidays”

“Have a very Merry Christmas!”

“I love the holidays because everyone is so cheerful!”

However, if you’re grieving during the holidays, your narrative probably sounds a little different. It may sound like, “I just don’t want to do the holidays this year!” or “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through.” Grieving during the holidays brings many different challenges such as overwhelming expectations and experiencing joy overload, contributing to you possibly doubting your ability to navigate the holidays while still attempting to honor your grief journey. If you’re finding that your narrative around the holidays sounds like the statements above or you’re encountering doubt and fear in partaking in the upcoming festivities, I have a quick 3 step process for you to navigate the holiday season with a bit more ease.


Whether you’re battling others’ (or your own) expectations around how you “should” show up during the holidays, you’re worried about how grief will influence the family dynamics during the holidays, or you’re curious if it’s okay to experience joy while grieving, there may be times throughout the holiday season that you find yourself not wanting to engage in the holidays like you would have prior to your loss.

THIS! IS! OKAY! A common worry attached to the holidays is uncertainty around how to navigate the holidays while continuing to do your grief work and honor your grief journey. Saying no and setting boundaries is one of the best ways around this valid uncertainty! Haven’t set boundaries before or are unsure of how boundaries look when applied to the holidays? Not to worry! Read on and I will guide you through an easy 3 step process for setting boundaries. The steps we will address are:

  1. Identify where to set boundaries,

  2. Identify how to set the boundaries, and

  3. Boundary reinforcement


It’s difficult to set a boundary when we are unsure of where that boundary even needs to be set. To determine where boundaries may need to be set this holiday season, I invite you to explore the following questions:

  1. What holiday traditions/festivities did you and your family/friends engage in prior to your loved one’s passing?

  2. For each tradition/festivity identified in the first question, what feelings arise when thinking about engaging in those this year?

    1. Do the feelings that are coming up honor where you currently are in your grief journey?

  3. What traditions/festivities would you like to engage in?

    1. Which ones would you like/need to say no to?

As with any exercise, you may have answers to some of these right away while others, you may have to ponder and think about for awhile. Take your time. If helpful, talk with a few trusted people within your safe grief support system to help you determine where boundaries (if any) need to be set this holiday season.


You know where you want (or need) to set boundaries, now you will benefit from identifying HOW to set those boundaries. This simply comes down to what you’re going to say to the individual (or group of people) that will be in the environment or part of the tradition that needs the boundary. Setting boundaries can be scary and challenging and because of this, I invite you to keep these 3 tips in mind when establishing boundaries:

  • Tip #1: Prepare & plan

    • Practice what you want to say

    • Ask for what you need (or don’t need!)

  • Tip #2: Be clear & concise

  • Tip #3: Use your own language

These tips act as a nice road map for when you’re verbalizing the boundary you are wanting to set this holiday season. Put your own flare on setting the boundaries; it will be well received if it feels genuine to you and your relationship with the person (or people) to whom you are communicating the boundary.


The last step, reinforcing the boundary, could possibly be one of the most challenging for the purpose that people will push and challenge your boundaries. Not always out of disrespect but because it’s a new way of navigating and could potentially catch them off guard; requiring them to adjust. Due to the challenging nature of step #3, here are a few things to remember when setting and reinforcing boundaries:

  • Prepare for discomfort & shock

  • Whether you provide explanation or not on the reason for the boundary, that is UP TO YOU!

  • Avoid open reinforcement

    • Sounding like a broken record (i.e. “I will not be doing that this year.” ,“I am choosing not to do that this year”, etc) eliminates space for others to push and over step the boundary

SOMETHING TO REMEMBER when setting and reinforcing boundaries, they can be flexible! The boundaries that feel right and are set this year, may not be the same that are needed next year. They can be flexible, reevaluated, and adjusted on YOUR TERMS! I encourage you to keep your boundaries flexible because you choose to adjust them, not because others are pushing you to change them.


My hope for you this holiday season is you find peace and feel confident in how you choose to partake (or not) in the festivities this year with the guidance of the boundary exercise above. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process and give yourself a grief break if needed. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re wanting more guidance on any of the above steps but don’t feel comfortable confiding in your support system, I invite you to take advantage of my FREE 30 minute grief counseling consultation to discuss what exploring these with me might look like.

Regardless of how your holiday season looks this year, remember you have the right to honor your deceased loved one in a way that feels right and true to you and your grief journey.

Here’s to living a better life as your best self.

Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT
Grief Counselor/Therapist

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