Raise your hand if you don’t feel some twinge of anxiety about the family dynamics during the holidays.
If you’re honest, you feel pretty conflicted about having your parents or siblings over for Christmas dinner, much less visiting your childhood home. And you likely feel somewhat reluctant about going to your in-laws or some other place that doesn’t feel welcoming to who you are. (The only difference between in-laws and outlaws is that outlaws are wanted).
Surviving during the holiday season is all about eating more food, drinking more drinks, and watching more football. Basically, if you want to just make it through the holidays without feeling like you’re falling off the cliff, spend as little time sober around your family as possible. And by sober, I don’t mean alcohol and food inebriation, rather I mean that you not engage with what you really think and feel. Alcohol and Food provide great buffers to numb out the pain that so many of our family situations trigger. Surviving is about just getting by, Thriving is about being present and not letting the old patterns and behaviors become the go-to actions.
Here’s some ideas on thriving this holiday season:
1. Don’t expect changes to have occurred in any of your family of origin relationships. This isn’t to say that you need to expect them to have not changed, but be surprised by their change, not their lack of change. Resentments thrive in the petri dish of unrealistic expectations.
2. Practice not saying all that you have to say. It’s easy to get triggered and have a flood of old emotions come sweeping in during time with family. Use caution about what you say, and who you say it to. Sometimes silence is the difference between a good night sleep, and a raging night sleep.
3. Plan your exit strategy ahead of time. Set boundaries for how much time you will spend, and where. Don’t let big decisions be made on the spot, make those proactively. “No” is a complete sentence.
4. Be mindful of eating and drinking indulgently. There is always copious amounts of food and drink during holiday gatherings, and it’s easy to numb out to excessive caloric intake or alcohol.
5. Don’t completely deviate from your normal routine. Take some of your normal non-vacation habits with you. Bedtime, morning, mealtime, exercise, etc. The more familiar you are with what the day holds the healthier you will be able to respond to challenging situations.
Above all, be honest with yourself and with those that are committed to living in truth and vulnerability with you. Especially this year with all the stress we are carrying, the holidays can provide some great contexts for healing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be involved in that process.