The holidays are supposed to be the season to be jolly. But for anyone who comes from a toxic family, it can be painful. Is it possible to prevent the emotional pain of spending time with family members? Yes. Instead of fear or fighting, it can be a time of comfort and joy.
Begin by letting go of any unrealistic expectations. For example, it is unrealistic to think, “It would be wonderful to spend two weeks with my ex-spouse, kids, grandkids, and our pets all in one house. What could possibly go wrong?”
It is more realistic to set boundaries by limiting time spent together, learning to say no when necessary, and discussing plans beforehand. Communicate boundaries in a way that is firm but respectful. Have different people prepare food, organize activities, and clean up afterward—don’t let all the responsibilities fall on one person’s shoulders. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Amid time with family, be sure to schedule a time with safe, loving, and empathetic people. Spending time with safe people is a worthwhile investment—it’s like diversifying a social and emotional portfolio. One way to connect with others is by going to a Life Recovery Group online or in person.
Time with family can bring out old, unhealthy patterns from childhood. Anyone from a toxic family where abuse or addiction thrives may unwittingly repeat the same dysfunctional role. Learning to say no during the holidays is vital.
Steve Arterburn puts it this way, “Some of us were raised saying too many yes’s and too few no’s. We learned early what to say to please people. But to honor God, we learn to say a good no.”
Not only do the holidays stir up unhealthy patterns, but they can also bring out sadness and depression. If this sounds familiar, talk to a friend or a counselor through the New Life Counselors Network.
On a night long ago in a field far away, shepherds were watching their sheep. Suddenly, an angel appeared before them, and they were afraid:
But the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:10-11
The shepherds didn’t let fear or anything else stop them; they went to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Like the shepherds who didn’t let anything stop them, don’t let a difficult family steal the season’s joy.
by Kit Hill