Ken Corr

Being With Family for the Holidays

Are you going home for the holidays? Many people find that returning home for the holidays can be very stressful. Within minutes of being home, your mother asks if you are still in that “dead-end job,” your sister makes a joke about your weight, your Uncle Joe challenges your theology and your brother is being his usual obnoxious self. You have not unpacked your bags and are already wondering why you came. Does that sound familiar? What is “normal” for families is not necessarily what is “healthy.”   So, how do you prepare yourself for the holidays with the family?

Begin by reminding yourself that you are not responsible to fix, rescue, or help the family with their issues. Codependency is the state that occurs when you, consciously or unconsciously, take on everyone else’s problems. You are not responsible for your mother’s opinions; you are not responsible for how your brother’s views on politics affect your dad; you are not responsible for your Uncle Joe’s weird theology; you are not responsible for your brother-in-law’s alcohol problem. You will not be able to change them or control their behavior or make them happy. Once you can say, “This is not my problem,” you will take a big step towards being a healthy person.

Another way to prepare yourself for the family craziness is to avoid advice giving. Most people don’t respond well to advice giving and yet we keep giving it. The problem is that either they will not appreciate your advice or they will take your advice and then, when they don’t get the result that they wanted, they will blame you. The best approach is to avoid advice-giving altogether. The challenge is to learn how to be an empathic listener without giving advice. Empathic listening demonstrates concern and understanding, but does not give direction. Avoid the tendency to say, “You know what you need to do. . .”

Finally, you can prepare yourself to be with family by becoming aware of your own choices. Healthy people have learned to recognize what they want, need, and feel. If you know what you want, you will be able to say yes when you need to say yes and no when you need to say no. By becoming aware of your own choices, you can avoid the need to say yes to please others.

The holidays can be a “healthy” time with family even if it does not feel “normal.”

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