Family holidays. I remember when I was a kid, it was a trial just imagining who we were gonna sit next to at the Thanksgiving table with some 20 or more people. Would it be next to the gruff, often mean and sarcastic grandpa? The aunt who would whine and complain about her life? My step-cousin who always let me know that as a step-child, I was an outsider and really didn’t belong in this family gathering?
Man, that whole dynamic was dysfunctional and the quaffing of table wine just ratcheted up any undercurrent of unsettled feelings. Can you relate to this experience?
So here we are now, you and me – all grown up! And we’re at that time of year where family gatherings are ramping up. I know there are many people who look forward to being with their mostly healthy, families of origin… That’s terrific!
But there are many others who are gritting their teeth for what often can turn out to be a “misery-fest”. Sure, you can make excuses and avoid seeing the family most of the year, but I know that Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, the Jewish holidays in the Fall may be more like a “command performance” than anything else, where you gird yourself for… I don’t know, maybe the (very opinionated) authoritarian father and/or the perfectionist mother (“Can’t you do anything right?!”), or the siblings who aggravate all the above. And you probably throw your own special magic into the mix!
In our culture, the IDEA of having “warm and fuzzy” interactions with the family is this sacred assignment seen as something you gotta do. But, as someone who specializes in teaching the language of emotions so that we can release the anger, the sadness, the fear and anxiety, the depression … I know that this “warm and fuzzy” family fantasy thing is mostly a myth.
And about this time of year, I hear from a lot of people who are bracing themselves to walk into that lion’s den that has often been the cause of so much grief and trauma- and continues to undermine their life. So what do we do? How do we do it? Must you be a good girl or a good boy, no matter how old you are or what you’ve done in the world?
This question is top of mind with my Master Course students and clients who are in the midst of healing from their difficult emotions. And it’s a tough call whether to walk in to that lion’s den … and back into a dysfunctional family orbit, where they know exactly how to push all your buttons.
Often times, people doing this work are just getting to the point of being in touch with WHY they’re grappling with Anger or Anxiety or a deep sense of unworthiness … and the genesis of this trauma usually arises from how we were treated as kids by our caregivers: mom, dad, sibs, or whomever.
So here you are, becoming stronger and more in touch with WHAT you’re feeling and WHY you’re feeling it. Your healing may still be in the early stages. And this family gathering is scheduled, and you’re called upon to be in the company of the exact people who mistreated you in the first place, because it’s FAMILY TIME with Thanksgiving. Or the December holidays, or whatever that might be.
You of course need to decide for yourself what YOU want to do. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go back into the lion’s den. You can make the decision that your wellbeing is more important to you than being the “good” boy or the “good” girl that society dictates you be. And you can just tell your family that you won’t be joining them… And you don’t have to come up with some blaming excuse that they’re so awful that you don’t want to be around them. Nope, you don’t have to do that. You’re an adult with adult preferences.
Just something like, “Hey! I won’t be joining you for Thanksgiving. I’ve made other plans and I’m not going to be around. So you have a great time and I’ll be in touch later.”
If you do this, you won’t be some awful, inconsiderate, selfish person because you’re not doing what you believe you’re obliged to do. You’ll be doing what’s right for YOU, which is what we call Self-Care. Remember that even though we’re Adults, when this family stuff comes up, we revert to the 6 or 8 year old who never got respect as a child, might have been dismissed, ignored, abandoned, neglected.
What do you think about what I’m saying? Is this something you could do… that you might do? Scroll down and leave a comment for me and let me know.
I’m Becca Williams and I want you to lead your most magnificent life, and I want to help you do that.