For many, the holiday season is a season of joyful expectation, reunions with loved ones, and merry parties and group events. This year is decidedly different for most everyone who has a proper respect for the power of viruses.
Yet, even in the best of circumstances, the holiday season is not full of joy, but of dread, for many. Traditional family gatherings may trigger all sorts of trauma and stress for those who have had conflicts with family members. This year is a great opportunity to reboot your approach to family gatherings in general.
What if took the time to formulate a new strategy to deal with those in your family whom you can’t avoid at times and who contribute to making your holidays stressful?
Here are seven possible starting points:
1. Find out if you have porous emotional boundaries that you have not yet strengthened. What does your inner spirit need to protect you? You could avoid the family gatherings altogether. That’s not usually possible. What is your plan to remove yourself, emotionally or physically from the group when things get tense for you, when difficult subjects or remarks arise, when someone begins acting out? What are some kind, but direct ways to avoid toxic interactions?
2. Have you had a discussion with your spouse/partner about how certain of your or their family members give you the creeps? Are you getting an empathic response in return? Have you made clear your feelings, the time limit for visiting you can tolerate? Have the two of you planned a solution that would satisfy both of you and your kids?
3. Have you tended to overstay your visits in the past, thus setting yourself up for being overwhelmed? What if in the future you planned to arrive later, such as for dessert, after spending personal time at home or with other friends? Most people appreciate late arrivals at a party; it shifts established dynamics and gives everyone a chance for a fresh start in conversational tone.
4. Have you identified your “safe space?” It could be a separate lounge area, a bedroom, or even a bathroom. A quiet walk outdoors with a chosen member can help you reconnect with your emotions if family conflicts arise. But do it as soon as your intuition says that escalation is about to occur!
5. Maybe it’s time to let go of petty grievances. You know people will not change, and you know the struggle you have to change. Ongoing complaining, silly arguments from childhood, political disagreements, annoying habits…how about letting go and deflecting by changing the topic? No need to torture yourself; assert your boundaries instead.
6. But what if the perpetrator of abuse, trauma, or active addiction shows up? Are you supposed to forgive and forget? Not really. For that level of hurt I refer to Jonice Webb, author of Running On Empty, a great book about childhood emotional neglect. Here is her recent article that address this particular issue
7. Going forward, assuming we no longer have to socially distance, with whom would you prefer to spend the holidays? Who really needs and wants to see you? Who really doesn’t mind not seeing you and won’t miss your presence? How much shame do you carry around when you don’t fulfill family “expectations” and “obligations?” There is such a thing as one’s family of origin and one’s family of choice. It’s a balancing act, and you get to call the shots, keeping in mind respect and kindness for yourself as well as key family members.
© 2020 Michael Parise