It’s supposed to be the happiest time of year, family and friends around the dinner table, enjoying each other’s company. Unfortunately for many of us, the holidays can be anything but the pipe dream regurgitated to us via Christmas music and holiday fanfare. Instead, we’re left trying to regulate our neurotic family member or avoid that one conversation that always leads to someone crying. Simply put, holiday time with family can be stressful, especially if there are unresolved issues hovering. It can feel like navigating a minefield.
A father’s alcoholism, your brother’s legal troubles, or Aunt Mary’s lack of boundaries. The issues can seem endless, and all you want to do is make through to January. So in preparation for “war,” we at Peace Partnership would like to give you some tools heading into the week of Christmas. Here are three principles you can take to your family gathering. And if you’ve got your own principle you like to live by during this time of the year, we’d love to hear it.
1. Don’t feed the monster. You see it coming. Grandma started crying during the prayer and your sister just finished her third glass of wine. Things are about to get ugly. What do you do? The very simple answer is choosing not to be a part of the drama. Don’t be afraid to openly set boundaries with your family beforehand, letting them know that you love them but can’t be a part of them choosing to perpetuate this style of relating. If they do it anyway, don’t beat yourself up about choosing to spend your time elsewhere. Healing has to begin somewhere. Often times we find ourselves in the same cycle of relating because having a dysfunctional relationship at Christmas is better than having no relationship at Christmas. At one time or another you’ll need to choose.
2. Structure can give freedom. Maybe there’s a set time for Christmas lunch, and you know it usually takes about two hours before you start feeling hemmed in by your mother’s relationship advice. Plan something in advance that will allow you to take a breather. Make time for yourself by going to the movie or going shopping. You know your personal limits. Instead of trying to stretch yourself or grow in your relationships, make sure you’re getting enough “you” time. The holiday is for relaxing and that should be your main goal. You won’t fix your family’s dysfunction at the dinner table right before you hand out presents, and you shouldn’t try.
3. Know your triggers. A trigger is somewhat of a chain reaction in terms of behavior analysis. It is an action or event that makes us begin to feel anxious, angry, or sad. For instance, if you know handing out presents is going to make you miss your ex or a family member that’s not there this holiday, maybe you can come up with another way to celebrate? Something I hear a lot from clients is, “That’s stupid, and I’m not going to give up xyz just because it makes me feel bad.” The fact of the matter is, sometimes we have to properly mourn the loss of something or someone before we can fully appreciate it. Pretending a trigger is non-existent or hoping it will just go away over time only gives it more power to become the elephant in the room.
As you head home for the holidays, we wish you safe travels and positive time with your family members!