“You don't have to be rude to set a boundary, we can still be gentle. We can still be kind and set a limit.”

With the holidays coming up, many of us could use some actionable tips on how to best handle this stressful time of the year. Luckily, clinical social worker Jacqueliné Garcia was able to share her wisdom. Jacqueliné and I spoke about setting boundaries, tackling tough conversations with family members, and how to combat mental and physical anxiety symptoms.

Based in Los Angeles, Jacqueliné is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with the Latinx community. For over seven years, her work has focused on treating anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Before launching her own private practice, Jacqueliné worked for a mental health facility that had a contract with the LA County Department of Mental Health. During that time, she was a field-based therapist, serving low-income families.

Our conversation was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

I'd love to hear about the work you do with the Latinx community. Can you share a bit about your experience working with this community?

This year, when I entered the realms of social media, I wanted to talk about topics that I grew up seeing from my own Mexican family. One of the topics, or patterns, that I see is intergenerational trauma. Trauma isn't really talked about and if we don't identify that there is a cycle that repeats itself, it is going to go down to the next generation.

A lot of times within the Latinx culture, we're supposed to follow everything that our parents say. And growing up like that, it's hard for us to make decisions, it's hard for us to have our own privacy. Boundaries are not a thing. Boundaries weren't something that was discussed in my family unit.

It was: you have to say yes to everything. You have to come to church every Sunday, you have to go to your tía's (aunt in Spanish) house for the family function. You don't have a say, you have to come, even if you don't like your tía. Those are some of the topics and patterns I've seen with my clients.

When one of your clients says, “I want to set boundaries. I love my family and I don't know how to begin.” What do you say in response?

I start with identifying your needs. What are these needs? And where can you compromise? So let’s say I want to have a relationship with my family. But I feel like having a relationship with my family requires me to have some sort of limit. Okay, then we identify that you want to have a relationship with your family. Cool. What else? I want to go to family functions. But let's say I'm not feeling too well about going to one. Maybe out of the month there are three family gatherings, right? I'll commit to one. And that's where you talk about the compromise.

Many people struggle with their family's response to setting the boundary. Even if the person understands that their family might not respond well, I think the hardest thing is being able to handle the response and stick to your plan. How do you handle it if your family doesn’t have a great response?

This is something that comes up a lot. The fact that boundaries can be so scary. You're not used to setting boundaries. You're not used to having that language. Sometimes they're not respected by your family members. So what do you do when you get that pushback?

You have to remember that in this space, if someone doesn't respect your boundaries, it's no longer about you. It's a lot about them. Guilt tends to follow after we set boundaries. Why? Because it's something taboo, it's something that wasn't taught to us. So, if things are not taught to us, and it's not familiar to us, it's going to feel odd.

A tip that I always remind my clients, and myself too, is you can only control your words, your actions, your behaviors, your boundaries, and how you show up in spaces. You cannot control other people's actions, other people's words, behaviors, and how they respect your boundaries.

Let’s talk about some holiday-specific situations. One thing I've heard is that people are worried when they gather together, family members are going to comment either on their eating habits or their body. How do you handle someone in your family commenting on your body?

For those people who are going to be spending time with their family members and are feeling anxious or overwhelmed or nervous about going to these spaces, I highly recommend you wear something comfortable. Something you feel comfortable in and that you feel good in.

Make sure that you practice nourishing yourself, and making yourself feel safe prior to going to the family gathering. Why do I say that? Because it's important for us to gain some self-love before we go into these spaces. A lot of the things that people comment, if they're negative, that's projection. People are projecting their insecurities onto you.

One of the things that might be hard is if someone keeps pushing back on your boundary and what you're saying. How do you stop someone from forcing you into a situation?

It's being assertive and being firm with your boundary. And that's going to feel really uncomfortable. For example, your aunt says, “You look like you haven't eaten in days. Here, you need to eat more!” It's grabbing the plate and saying, “Tía, I'm gonna take this to go. I appreciate you so much for preparing this food for me.”

So it's going with a mentality of, I'm going to be clear. If my aunt ends up getting mad at me, that's not my problem. That's no longer my issue. That's something that maybe my aunt needs to explore. So there are definitely ways where you can still be kind and set a boundary. You don't have to be rude to set a boundary, we can still be gentle. We can still be kind and set a limit.

What are some ways that people can calm their nervous system before or after a gathering or just in general around the holidays?

Coping skills are very unique and different to each individual. So before – even the day before you're going into a space – whether it is an interview, a family gathering, a birthday party, whatever holiday, Christmas, New Year's, it's important for you to really ground yourself and practice things that bring you joy.

If you're experiencing somatic symptoms, which are more physical symptoms like hives, feeling shaky, headaches, stomach ache, it's so important for you to do some sort of somatic work. There's one grounding technique called the butterfly technique. You cross your arms across your chest and create a butterfly with your hands and you tap. This will help you have a sense of connection with your own self. And it's going to make you feel a lot more grounded than before.

I highly recommend that if you show up somewhere and you don't feel safe, to cater to your needs. You can say “Bye, thank you so much for having me, see you all next time!” and go somewhere safe. Because you come first, your mental health comes first and it is not safe for you to be in a space where you're experiencing all these anxiety symptoms.

You can find Jacqueliné on Instagram and TikTok under @therapylux.