It’s that time of year again! For many, the holiday season is spent with family and is filled with nothing but joy, love, laughter, gratitude and giving. If this is you, you can go ahead and stop reading now…. This piece is for those of us who don’t live on the Hallmark Channel.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We love our family. At the same time, getting together with our families or our in-laws around the holidays can get stressful, awful or even painful. Some people end up in my therapy office after the holidays, shattered from family celebrations.
If you’re tired of the stressful dynamics in your family, maybe this year it’s time to try something a little different. Let’s call this an early Chanukah list.
Set boundaries. Setting boundaries is the foundation for standing up to the family difficulties that we deal with every year. Maybe the lessons we learned in childhood were to not “stir the pot” and to avoid conflict. The end result of this is that we end up acting as if we are OK when, quite frankly, we aren’t.
When your mother–in-law pulls up an old dig about your weight, you don’t have to sit quietly and let your blood pressure go through the roof. Instead, you can say, “I don’t like it when you make comments about my weight.”
Another way to set boundaries is to put space between yourself and whatever or whomever you’re trying to set boundaries with. You may not be able to control what others say, but you can certainly move yourself to another room or go for a walk.
Don’t regress. Perhaps you always got dragged into being the mediator or the scapegoat in your family when you were growing up. When we, as adults, spend time with our families in the present, we tend to slip back into old roles. Don’t be who you were when you were 14. Be who you are now, even if your family doesn’t see it. If they continue to define you as your past, don’t stoop to their level by doing the same to them. Be the grown-up in the room.
Don’t be held back by the prospect of negative outcomes. You might plan to do things differently around your family, but it doesn’t mean the results will be rosy. You might set boundaries and get a lot of backlash.
This is not advice for the faint of heart. It’s advice to help you survive your family holiday. These are suggestions for people who are tired of getting sucked into the same old family patterns, and are ready to find their voice and get unstuck.
There’s no way to know for sure how your holiday will turn out as you try some of these ideas. At best, you might become a catalyst for actual change in your family and holidays might get better.
But, whether family time improves or continues on as it always has, you can at least know that you are taking charge of your life and taking steps toward a happier you.
Enjoy the latkes!
Lynn Superstein-Raber is a registered psychologist who helps people overcome depression, anxiety and relationship problems. For more information, visit lynnsuperstein.com.