Surviving the Holidays as Adults
As soon as the world around her shifted from pumpkin spice to peppermint mocha, Holly could sense that she was feeling off. Wanting to be alone when everything told her to be jolly had her a bit depressed. Feeling like she was moving in slow motion when everyone was rushing towards the holidays left her feeling anxious. She knew she was going to have to attend her family gathering, see the relatives she avoided all year, be witness to family drama cycles that never seemed to get resolved, and have to find a good excuse to change the subject or escape at any given moment (to avoid being “rude” or “getting pulled into the fire”). After all, she should be grateful to not be alone during the holidays, but yet that’s all she wanted. To add insult to injury, this season was always a painful reminder of her marriage falling apart 2 years ago, after her ex’s traumatic affair with his gorgeous co-worker. Every year was a reminder of her failures, her dissatisfaction, her loneliness. Her mom’s family, who was not supportive of her divorce from her abusive husband, would be asking Holly when she was going to remarry, have children, and remind her that “her clock is ticking.” It seemed you were only worthy of respect if you were a married woman with children, no matter what the circumstances. Their critical questions and comments brought her back to her “ugly duckling” role she played all her years growing up in the shadow of her brother, “the golden child.” By the end of each holiday season she not only felt defeated, but exhausted. ‘Till next year.
The holidays can be a time of joy for many, but also a time of complicated emotions. Childhood memories and dynamics can resurface when spending time with our family of origin. Being able to properly acknowledge and express our childhood emotional baggage is necessary to reach an acceptance of our present and who we want to be moving forward. The holidays are often times when we’re faced with the reminders of what still needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and transformed.
How do we know we’re still carrying childhood emotional baggage?
- We either avoid meaningful conversations or get angry/defensive when a conversation gets personal.
- We feel easily pulled back into our childhood role in our families when gathered together (i.e. the “black sheep,” “the golden child,” “the clown,” “the clumsy one,” etc.)
- We go back and forth from rigid to no boundaries instead of keeping them clear.
- We return from family gatherings feeling exhausted, emotional, and/or relieved (“weight off your shoulders”).
- We dread the next family get-together, feeling stressed and tense instead of excited and welcoming.
TIPS on Surviving the Holidays without Regressing to Childhood:
What can we do to make the holiday season more merry and peaceful when gathering with our families of origin?
- Acknowledge: Breathe. Slow down and take time to listen to your inner child’s memories and needs. What is he/she feeling? What does he/she need? Breathe.
- Accept: Breathe. “I’m willing to accept ________ happened.” “I’m willing to accept that it affected me in these ways: ____________.” “I’m willing to accept that I’m an adult now and have more tools, power, and maturity to handle things differently.” Breathe.
- Also accept that this time of reflection is going to be painful, confusing, and scary.
- Trust it will also be transformational.
- Transform: Breathe. Doing the above steps regularly and consistently will allow you to relate to your family differently. Stay firm and patient in this process. Breathe.
- Adopt an observational approach with specially difficult family members (i.e. like a detective or a doctor, just observe the interaction vs. getting emotionally involved in it).
- Give yourself the gift of being more vulnerable with those family members that have earned that by being genuine and respectful of your boundaries in the past.
- Breathe: During the entire holiday season, take time every day to practice meditation/prayer, in a quiet place, breathing deeply, centering yourself in your intention to honor your inner child and grow mature in your relationships with your family of origin.
Nobody comes from a perfect family. We’re all carrying some type of emotional baggage, patterns from our families of origin, and belief systems we learned from our parents. Becoming aware of these can be transformative in itself. But, don’t stop there. Be intentional in repeating those patterns you found precious, while breaking those you found unhealthy. You’re an adult now and have the power you didn’t have as a dependent child to claim your individuality while remaining connected to your family of origin.
If there is emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse in your family of origin, it is best to distance yourself from them until the abusive patterns stop, if they ever do. If not, it’s best to love them from a distance and focus on your own healing.
Need to learn more about how to improve your boundaries and coping skills? Individual Therapy can help!