In a perfect world, everyone would have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Each one a perfect picture of a loving family, happiness and warm fuzzy feelings.

It’s been my experience that these pictures exist for very few. What about you? What childhood memories do you have of holidays past? What challenges do the holidays present to you now?

The main problem with the holidays is that they involve family. Don’t get me wrong, this is also a good thing. Except when you are a target for someone you are related to, like an over-bearing mom, a critical dad, a nosey aunt or a competitive sibling. Who are you dreading seeing this year?

Solution: You have the power to stop being on the receiving end of their negative stuff! You can learn to set healthy boundaries.

Example: One of my clients, Ted, dreaded Thanksgiving every year. He had an obnoxious, alcoholic uncle, who asked him every year in a mocking voice at the dinner table, “So Ted, did you get that big promotion yet?”

Ted worked at a company where moving up the ladder of success was slow and difficult. Ted had his own issues about this and was working through them with me. He DID NOT need his uncle to bring this up in front of the entire family.

Ted told me that for the past four years, his uncle would ask this question loudly at the dinner table, there would be silence and then Ted would feel obligated to explain, once again to all, the difficulties he is facing at work. Ted ended up feeling sad and diminished.

I told Ted—STOP DEFENDING YOURSELF! This makes you a target and a victim.

Instead fire back with a question instead of a defense. Answering a question with a question interrupts the dynamic that has been put in place, and shows strength instead of weakness. I told Ted to say “Uncle Ron, don’t you think you would have been the first person I would have called and told about it if I had?”

Ted reported back to me that once he said this, his family laughed, which broke the usual uncomfortable silence. Uncle Ron had no comeback, turned slightly red and ended up joining in with the laughter. The whole thing was over in a few moments, and it remains to be seen whether drunk Uncle Ron will ask the same question again, but Ted felt that the old pattern was broken.

Ted set a boundary. He indirectly told his uncle that it was not OK to cause such discomfort and Ted stopped playing the defense game with an insensitive relative.

Do you have an Uncle Ron? Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Remember: NO ONE IS SO IMPORTANT THAT THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO HURT YOUR FEELINGS!

Give yourself a very special holiday gift this year. If there is a family member who ‘ruins’ the holiday for you, be prepared this year to stop the cycle of attack/defense. Stop any passive-aggressive behavior coming your way. It is not your responsibility to sacrifice your self-esteem and integrity during the holidays when you work so hard the rest of the year to love and respect yourself.

Author's Bio: 

Catherine Cardinal, Ph.D. has been a guest expert on the O'Reilly Factor, Starting Over, Good Day New York, CBS Studio 2, Blind Date,, and She's been a commentator on more than 25 U.S. and international radio programs, and featured in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Redbook, Ladie's Home Journal, In Touch and Publisher's Weekly. The Los Angeles Times best-selling author of A Cure for the Common Life: The Cardinal Rules of Self-Esteem, Catherine is a Relationship Coach, and creator of "The Cardinal Coaching Technique", a Movement Expression Therapist and Anger Management Facilitator. She has taught at The Learning Annex and is on staff at Rejuvalife Vitality Institute in Beverly Hills and The Stress and Anger Management Institute in Manhattan Beach. Her books have been published in seven languages.

For more information on setting boundaries contact Catherine Cardinal at 310-288-3426 or at