For most people, holidays and family go together, so any issues you have with your family will come to the surface during the holidays. Even if you are not physically with them, your family will be near, either through calls and emails or simply through memories of childhood and past holiday seasons. If there is conflict or dysfunction with parents or siblings, if a divorce or separation is occurring or has occurred with a spouse, it is likely you are going to encounter some difficult emotions. If you are already struggling with anxiety and/or depression, the holidays may add to your emotional distress. It is important to make a plan of how you are going to deal with family triggers over the holidays.
Set holiday boundaries
Expectations increase during the holidays. This can be a good thing, it can drive us to do better for each other. It can motivate us to make the best effort to be considerate, and think of others before we think of ourselves.
Still, this does not mean we let go of boundaries. Boundaries are limits we set with other individuals. It means saying no to certain things.
This can be difficult if we grew up in a dysfunctional family where boundaries were not taught or even understood. Without boundaries, we can get caught in a constant push and pull of other peoples wants and needs. It also means we can make demands on others that we shouldn’t be making.
An example of setting boundaries during the holiday may be to attend a family event but leave if a conflict arises. It may mean saying no to hosting a large dinner without any help. Some people may not realize how difficult it is to cook for 20 people and then clean up after. Sometimes setting boundaries is simply calling on others to share the burden of large family get-togethers.
If you have difficult relationships where conflict is the norm, you may need to simply say no to invitations of events you don’t want to go to. Or go, but leave after a short visit.
Why do we need boundaries?
Boundaries are a vital part of good mental health. They keep us physically and emotionally safe. If we learn to set good boundaries, we can actually relax around other people more. This is because we know we are strong enough to take care of ourselves. Setting gentle but firm boundaries is also a good example to demonstrate to our children. Boundaries are in part about self-worth. It may seem unfair to say no to others, but saying yes all the time may not be as helpful as we think. It is better to let another person stand in their own disappointment and learn from it. And essentially, when you do this, you are also giving them permission to say no to you.
The media would have us believe that in most other peoples houses, a blissful family is gathered around the holiday table. Everyone is happy and no one feels left out or disappointed.
In reality, this is not how most families experience their holidays. It is important to let go of unrealistic expectations of perfect feelings and behavior.
Let go of the picturesque image of what a holiday is supposed to look and feel like. This takes the pressure off you and others. Letting go of expectations frees you up to fully enjoy the small pleasures of being together. Each holiday season will be different than the last, people come and go, children grow older. Focus on the time you have together and try to remember that one day you will most likely look back on this time with fond memories.
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