The Holidays are coming up fast. Before we know it, Christmas trees will show up in the stores, and The First Noel will deck the halls before we even get a chance to trim our turkey. Don’t misunderstand me, I would like to fill each holiday with its own special kind of memories: turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving, and Jingle Bells with blinking lights for Christmas. It’s just that some of us—according to the prevailing statistics indicating increased stress, depression, and even suicide during the holiday months—find it difficult, if not deadly, to deal with unhealthy family dynamics, unreasonable expectations, and abusive relatives. We are thrown into unnatural encounters with them because we all know that we absolutely must bring the family together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It doesn’t matter that some of us rarely speak to each other during the rest of the year, and that it is often unpleasant when we do so.
No wonder holidays—which can be warm and wonderful when families have established a foundation of mutual respect, love, and trust—become the focus of dread and discomfort for some members of dysfunctional families who have been relegated to the role of the “black sheep”or some other negative position. We dread those agonizing associations with people whose behaviors have made us miserable in the past—without a sincere apology or an honest effort to change.
This time of the year, more than any other, we need to learn to reinforce appropriate boundaries, ways of relating to others that safeguard our time and resources (emotional, financial, and spiritual) while placing limits on our perceived obligation to meet the needs and expectations of others.
If you are beginning to feel it—like salt in an old wound—the annual reminder of your sense of inadequacy, vulnerability, or inferiority that surfaces when you are engaged in the “group dynamics” of family get-togethers; or the dread of spending time around Uncle X or an old “friend of the family” who manages to stay connected despite the damage he has done to you and others, maybe it is time to celebrate around your own blue spruce, or white pine, or whatever emblem you choose to symbolize the season of “Peace on Earth, Good will to men,” with a few good friends and trusted members of your family.
Maybe, it would even be better to celebrate on a different date with a more selective (safer) group of family and friends, rather than on the traditional date that brings everyone together to reinforce familiar family dynamics that will exacerbate old wounds and decimate your joy for at least another twelve months.
We don't have to be mean about it. There are ways to graciously bow out of the "big event" and visit those we love on our own terms and in our own time to celebrate our love for them and the joy of the holidays without laying aside our self-respect, our dignity, and our hard-won progress up the slippery slope of recovery.
"Peace at any price may sometimes cost us our soul."
-Redeeming Our Treasures
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Paperback - Nov 1, 1996)
Changes That Heal: How to Understand the Past to Ensure a Healthier Future by Henry Cloud (Mass Market Paperback - Jan 1, 1997)