The holidays are here again, and for most of us that means spending time with our families. There are people out there who breeze through this perineal family parade, people who don’t get triggered by their parents or siblings or drunk relatives. I don’t know many of these people. As a psychotherapist, these are the stories I hear more often. Most people struggle in one way or another when spending a lot of time with family.
If your family has dysfunctional patterns, spending time with them can be really difficult. I see and hear how quickly being around family can diminish the light of personal growth and self-love that has been achieved. You’d be amazed at how different the experience can be if you show up conscious and prepared.
When we were children, an emotional reality was created for us. We had no say in what was real, we were bound to our family system and what was consciously or unconsciously set as the truth. I work with my clients to break free from old and false belief systems. We work hard to create healthier ways to experience reality as an adult. Often, the holiday season comes along and it can all go out the window. The holidays are a rich with opportunities to fall back into our child-selves and false realities. Somehow, we can physically show up in our adult bodies, and at the same time shrink back into a child frame of mind in which we are unable to access our power. We get triggered. We may be very competent adults when we are distanced from our families, but we easily lose ourselves when thrown back into our family systems.
Here are five ways you can support yourself and find peace as you show up to spend time with your family this holiday season:
1. Stay out of the Insanity
In the world of addiction, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This applies to the idea of not expecting your family to be any different than they always have been. So, that simply means to remain conscious and in reality. This is vast and applies to many, many situations, but here are some ways this can show up.
Does someone in your family have a behavior that drives you crazy? For example, if that person usually gets drunk and it’s upsetting to you, it’s fair to expect that they will probably get drunk this year too! Maybe you will need to do something different so that it doesn’t upset you so much. Is one person consistently unkind to you? Is this someone you desire more intimacy with? Then tell them that what they are saying hurts your feelings or ask them why they said it. If it’s not someone you want to be closer to, validate yourself. Silently tell yourself “ouch” or “here he/she goes, being rude to me again” or “this person must be in pain to say mean things to me” or something along those lines. Also, don’t talk to this person very much! Is someone very controlling to the extent that it turns into a battle every year? Maybe you can be aware that the same thing happens every year. What if you just expect it and choose not to go to battle. Is it worth it? Does a specific topic always come up that causes some drama? Choose not to engage in the conversation (read the next section for more on this).
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
This means physically and emotionally. If you are an adult, you are 100% responsible for yourself in this life. You can choose where you sleep, how you spend your money, who you spend your time with, who you give hugs to, how much time you spend somewhere, where you go, who you disclose personal information to, what you eat, the list goes on. This can simply be learning to say no. Which can be excruciatingly difficult for many. But here is the deal. You can either choose to say no to others, or yourself. Remember that you spend most of your time with yourself, so that relationship is the most important, unless the repercussions are more uncomfortable when saying no to another person. That is your decision to make, but make it consciously. This also includes asking for your needs to be met. Your family/partner can’t read your mind, so try not to be silently resentful because they aren’t doing what you are thinking.
Choose to stay in a hotel, if that will make your trip more pleasant. Yes, it will be more expensive. But balance the value of your well-being and your bank account. You can choose. Eat food you choose to eat. This can make people very angry, but do it anyway. You live in your body; they don’t. Don’t engage in long conversations with people you don’t want to talk to. Choose how much time you’d like to spend at an event. Do you have dietary restrictions? Bring some food you can eat. Take care of yourself; other people aren’t responsible for you. Don’t talk about things you don’t want to talk about.
Boundaries can be really hard. I know lots of people who default to pleasing others above themselves. I often recommend a book by Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go. It’s a daily reflection book that can ground you in self-care. I highly recommend it.
3. Use your Support System
Use your partner as a partner. You are there together and it is your job to support each other. Talk about things that make you uncomfortable beforehand, and have a signal for help. Make sure your partner knows what the signal is and what you need if you signal. “When I wink at you, I need you to come pull me away from whoever I am talking to.” Or, “If I come grab your elbow, we need to go outside.” Or, “When I say I am tired, we need to leave.” Of course this comes from a place of love and support, vs controlling the other person. I can’t say enough about Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love . I use his method for couples counseling, and I highly recommend the book if you are in a relationship or ever plan on being in one. Buy the audiobook and listen to it together. It will enhance your life.
4. Practice Gratitude
Maybe some things happened during the holidays that were not great. But I imagine at least a few things went well. Our brains like to focus on the negative, so we have to set the intention to focus on the positive. I really love the Five-Minute Journal. I recommend it to a lot of my friends and clients. It’s very simple and anchors you in focusing on what went well. 5. Say the Serenity Prayer Religious/spiritual or not, this is helpful. You can modify it as you see fit. It’s a wonderful summary of a lot of the principles I mentioned above, and it can be your mental rock in any situation. Remember, you cannot change other people. They are doing the best they can and/or want, and it’s not your job to manage their lives. It is, however, your job to manage yours. Try to incorporate love and wisdom and you will find more peace in every situation.
God, Grant me the Serenity To Accept the Things I Cannot Change
Courage to Change the Things I Can
and Wisdom to Know the Difference.
Good luck and best wishes as you spend time with your loved ones this holiday season.