The holidays are supposed to be a time of giving, loving, and all-around wonderfulness. This is what the media tells us at least. I’m no Scrooge but I am a realist. The holidays get togethers make us all a little bit crazy and we tend towards regressing in age around our family. Perhaps this is just a fact of the season we rather not deal with directly. Yet, without really thinking through what these social-familial events bring, we allow ourselves to often to be pushed past our limit.
Let’s run through the basics just as a refresher. Your family is a part of you and even if you do not spend any time with them your upbringing does have an impact on how you deal with life. Your family of course is not the only thing involved here, but it does provide a template for what is going on. Hence, when need to be frank about when we are directly dealing with family. Overall, the idea applies that “parents know how to push buttons because they are the ones that installed them.” I know it sounds cliche but there is some real truth here. We learned what joy, sadness, love, anger, and a host of other thoughts and emotions from growing up in your family. So when we interact with them we almost by our nature move back into a place of youth that helps keep the equilibrium of our family dynamic intact. This pattern is not inherently a negative it can however bring up feelings of inadequacy, judgement, and anxiety.
What do you do then if you are a human creature and you act like humans do and find yourself being a 7 or 12 year old again around the family, even though you are an adult? First things first, you have to go in with forethought. Just showing up and drinking the eggnog will not keep you from the age regression trap. That is just child-like thinking. *smile* You are an adult now and so plan ahead. This concretely means take the time before you show up to the event knowing the personal boundaries you have. For example, if your parents nag you about finding a partner and you are sick of it. Note this ahead of time and perhaps even write it down on a card before you go to the party. Make yourself a plan for how to handle it when someone in the family steps over a boundary (even if they are well meaning). With the example above you could know that whenever anyone asks about who you are dating you can respond “thank you for your interest in my love life but that isn’t something I would like to talk about right now.” Then you can change the topic to something you do want to talk about.
I know what you are thinking, this is all easier said then done. Relatives pry, and parents feel they have the right to push, and some people are just being caring when asking, but that is the point of this exercise. You are looking ahead at the issues that make you uncomfortable and handing them in a respectful and adult manner. Not everyone responds well to boundaries but the key is that you are no longer a child and you are not forced to engage in situations that make you feel uncomfortable or negative about yourself. You are not being cruel by not sharing, you are being a healthy adult that is taking control of the life and situations you want to have. Of course you can phrase your boundary setting response in whatever works best for you but it is crucial that you think ahead of time of the boundaries you want to preserve.
Even with the best of intentions we can slip up, family pressure is intense. Maybe you wanted to set boundaries but found it too hard, the next step is to take space and regroup. You found yourself trapped but aunts who want to set you up with their hairdresser and you could not find a way to tell them to stop. So instead, you tell them you need to get some fresh air. At this point you can go outside, into another room, or just hide out in the bathroom a bit. During this centering time, you should remind yourself that you are an adult and that you are in control of how you act and what conversations you want to be a part of. You remember that you can handle the questions with respect while also keeping true to your boundaries. Take a few deep breaths and go back into the holiday party.
And what happens if after it is all said and done and nothing has changed? Well, that isn’t exactly true, you thought about this you moved to make a change. It isn’t easy changing patterns that you have lived with your whole life. But you are working on it and that in itself is movement and change. Plus, now that it is done you should take the time to look at the areas that you want to set firmer boundaries around the next interaction you have with the family members. It takes practice to be able to be yourself in your adult form around those that saw you with ice cream dripping down your chin. Still, you becoming more yourself in every situation is paramount to your growth and happiness. This is one exercise that is worth the effort time and time again.
Best of luck this holiday season in reaching all of your goals!