This time of the year we find ourselves bombarded with what some big advertising agencies say families are supposed to look like. The big holiday trees with more gifts under them than most of us could ever afford, the ads on TV showing all these warm and fuzzy family moments, the picturesque meals perfectly cooked with smiling faces all around the table, the sparkling jewelry (doesn’t everybody get engaged to the love of their life during the holidays?), wine and cocktails at fancy parties, etc. I don’t know about you, but life for most families I know doesn’t look like that.
In real life many families are struggling with family conflict, addiction, mental illness or the loss of a loved one – making even modest enjoyment of the holiday season difficult. And when we see all these illusions of what we think families should look like, we may find ourselves filled with shame and guilt over what’s happening with ours and feeling dreadfully inadequate somehow.
Here are some tips to help you and your family manage some of those uncomfortable feelings and situations, allowing for a more enjoyable holiday season:
General things to keep in mind for the holidays
Remember that what you see in the media is not real life
Have realistic expectations concerning family gatherings
Keep as many of your routines intact as possible - exercising, eating and other self-care practices
Avoid conflicts with family members – many can be avoided by everyone simply keeping opinions and judgments to themselves
Keep the length of time spent with family manageable – don’t feel like you “have to” spend every moment together
Be careful when consuming alcohol – situations have a way of escalating quickly when people are impaired
Never underestimate the power of having an “attitude of gratitude” for the good things in your life – there is always something to be thankful for
How to handle family conflicts if they occur
When conflict occurs, remember that a respectful resolution will protect the fabric of love in a family
Take a “time out” if you find yourselves unable to maintain mutual respect for one another
Agree to have certain subjects off limits before the family gets together – politics, finances, etc.
Plan family time that will be enjoyable and nurturing for everyone in the family
How to handle a family member who’s addicted
Have a family meeting before the holidays to come up with a plan of what approach to take so that everyone is on the same page
Give yourself permission to set reasonable yet firm and clear boundaries in a compassionate way with your addicted family member
Don’t hesitate to call a professional interventionist or addiction therapist for more specific advice on handling the addicted loved one prior to the holidays
Consider setting clear boundaries about your loved one not using any substances at family gatherings
Discuss and agree on a policy regarding consumption of alcohol/substances among non-addicted family members as well
How to handle grief over the previous loss of a loved one
Give yourself permission to feel the intense feelings of grief as they arise
Be willing to reach out and share your grief with others that you trust to listen to your pain
Remember to be kind to yourself as your feelings emerge and emotions shift
Explain to family members that you can’t just “get over it” and that your grief has a life of its own
Maintain healthy routines around eating, sleeping, exercising, etc.
Give yourself permission to take breaks to be alone if necessary
Remember that it’s OK to have some fun and allow yourself to feel happy, too – your loved one would want this for your family
Have a list of friends handy who you can call to uplift and support you when needed
Participate in some activities that take your mind off yourself (movies, Facebook, card/board games, cooking, etc.) and make sure not to isolate yourself from others
For many of us, this time of year can stir up a host of mixed emotions even under the best of circumstances. Remember that no matter what your feelings are, they are most often caused by an unrealistic sense of what the holidays should be for us. Keeping some of the things I’ve mentioned in mind and infusing your holiday activities with a sense of gratitude will bring a greater level of enjoyment to your holiday season!
Where Can I Get Help?
Addiction Support & Family Counseling
If you or a loved is struggling with addiction or family conflict, my practice offers professional intervention services, addiction therapy, sober coaching and family counseling. You can learn more about the help that is available for both individuals and families by visiting my website for more information. Call me at 678-316-3991 for a free 20-minute phone appointment.
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