Whether it’s the divorce, the strained relationships, the passive aggressive agendas or the drunken political commentaries, holiday gatherings can bring out the worse in us. Here are the top 5 reasons why you dread this time of year and how to make it better.
1. You believe you HAVE TO participate. Believing you HAVE TO, is like building a prison around yourself and throwing away the key. Nobody likes feeling powerless. Recognize that you are CHOOSING to participate in this awkward family gathering, because you prefer it over the alternatives. If you opt out, your wife may divorce you, your Dad will write you out of his will, or everyone will talk bad about you while your gone. As concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free”. If he can walk to the gas chamber with freedom, surely you can choose to visit your in-laws. Or not. Stay home, go to the neighbors, pass out food to the homeless. Celebrate your freedom of choice with pride, not guilt or blame.
2. You are pointing your finger the wrong way. Although it’s easier to blame our family, what we really don’t like is who WE become when we are around them. Terri turns into a wimpy doormat when she’s around her Mom. Kevin’s own inadequacies get triggered when his brother brags about his accomplishments. Julie gets embarrassed by her children’s poor behavior and becomes “Mean Mommy”, embarrassing herself even more. Realizing it’s YOU and YOUR BEHAVIOR that bugs you, gives you the power to change it. Ask yourself, “How can I be true to myself, even while surrounded by family?” Focus on what you value and ignore the rest. Every time Terri felt overshadowed by her Mom, she focused on the beautiful things around her. Kevin doesn’t value being reminded of his shortcomings, but he does value cheering on his favorite football team. Julie made sure she used HER best manners by focusing her attention on the lovely food and interesting company. Commit to being a person YOU like and experiencing the things YOU value.
3. The holidays bring up unprocessed emotions from the past. We aren’t meant to live perfect & easy lives. We are meant to learn and grow and the holidays can be a time of great teaching, if we let it. What genuine emotion are you trying NOT to feel that the holidays stir up in you? Sadness? Anger? Embarrassment? Fear? Find a quiet place where you can lock the door and allow yourself to feel whatever feeling wants to come up. Ask yourself, “Where in my body do I feel this feeling?” “What does it feel like?” “What color is it?” “Does it have a shape?” “Does it have a sound?” If you can OBSERVE and ALLOW this feeling to be in your body, it will move through you in about 90 seconds. If you avoid, suppress, or fight feeling this feeling, it can stay with you for a lifetime of holidays. Sink into your emotions like you sink into a bathtub. Soak for a while in whatever shows up. When the water gets cold, stand up knowing your emotions don’t have power over you.
4. You don’t like your reality. There’s nothing like a family reunion to remind us that we are still unemployed, still single, still broke, still fat, still addicted, still inadequate and unworthy. But when my clients look at what they say to themselves, they are WAY harder on themselves than any family member. Mom- “How’s that diet going that you started last year?” Your self talk- “Oh God, here we go again, my mom knows I’m fat and lazy and it’s nobody’s fault but mine and I suck. I’m an undisciplined loser.” Mom’s self talk- “I care about her and wish I knew how to help her.” Make peace with your reality so no one has the power to trigger you. I weigh 50 lbs. more than I’d like to and that’s ok. I am $19,000. in debt and that’s ok. My car is 15 years old and that’s ok. My kid has anxiety and that’s ok. Be sure to speak only facts, not opinions. You are not stupid, poor, fat, or a bad parent. People will always judge you, but you get to decide how you judge yourself and there is great freedom in making peace with the circumstances of your life.
5. You take family too seriously! Stop “shoulding” all over your family and put the FUN back in dysFUNctional. Your family should not be perfect, nice or welcoming. They are who they are and like it or not, they are yours. Pretend like your holiday gathering is a movie, would it be a comedy or a drama? Study the characters, their mannerisms, voice tone, and words, so you can act them out later. Write a script before hand and see how close you get to reality. Watch the movie play out and re-write the ending to make it funnier. Get together with a friend after and see whose family is craziest.
This is your life, your family and your holiday. Make sure the best of you shows up for it. Use it as a time to grow personally and become aware of areas you still need to make peace with. If you are tired of letting the holidays bring you down, schedule a life coaching session with me and we’ll make this your best year yet.