Posts Tagged With: holidays

Take Control of your Holiday

In Fluidity I suggested being open to change. This week I’m continuing on this thread specifically geared toward the holidays. We have the first night of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa on three consecutive days beginning December 24. What do you want your celebration to look like? As long as it is healthy, legal and wise you can do whatever you want. Obviously you can choose unhealthy, unwise and illegal options but I never recommend doing so because the ramifications for you will not likely be good in the long run.  Choosing healthy options might not feel good in the short run but over time you will reap the benefits of making choices that fulfill my three qualifiers: healthy, legal and wise.

If you have always spent your holiday with people you don’t enjoy being around, why do you keep doing that to yourself? Is it for them but inside you are resentful? If so, this action is not wise or healthy for you or them. You are living a lie of sorts. “I’ll pretend to like these people so they feel better.” If you resonate with that statement, you are choosing a co-dependent and toxic action. None of us want people to be in relationship with us out of obligation. We want to be around people who genuinely like us. They might not like us all the time and we might not like them all the time; that’s just the reality of being messy but, at the the end of the day, we count them as those we want to be with.

What about the way you celebrate? Maybe you want to do something different this year. Maybe you sit alone lamenting how lonely your life is. Walk into a homeless shelter and hang out with others. You might even decide you want to start spending more time there to help out. Usually when we see that we have something to offer others we feel better about ourselves. This isn’t out of obligation. This is a two-way street. You help others and in return, without them even realizing it, they help you. You see it in movies all the time. And this time, the movies have it right. When we contribute our time, we benefit. Our heart grows, our purpose becomes clear and our loneliness dissipates.

You have choices regarding how and with whom you celebrate the holidays. Take your life back and exercise your choice! Remember, keep the choices healthy, legal and wise 🙂

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Enjoy Kwanzaa!


Categories: Boundaries, co-dependency, Growth, Recovery, Relationships, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Dreading the Holidays: Setting Boundaries

The previous posts for this series have, in part, led up to today’s post. Before we can set boundaries, we need to be aware of our thoughts and emotions, attempt to understand where the other person is coming from, drop our pride and seek peace. Sometimes, we have taken these steps but they do nothing to curb our frustration, hurt or anxiety about being around really dysfunctional people. This is the place for boundaries. A boundary in this context sets a clear expectation in a crazy-making situation. Let’s say you have a brother who drinks excessively. Your memories of holiday gatherings with him involve everyone enjoying themselves at the beginning but after the alcohol starts flowing, over-indulging Al starts getting loud, obnoxious and is picking fights. Maybe his hands are roaming to places they don’t belong or his language is distasteful and hurtful. What do you do?

This requires a preemptive conversation with Al. Before the holiday event have a conversation with him either in person or over the phone. If in person be sure to have at least one other person with you for safety. Let Al know that you love him and you want to see him at the annual family holiday party. Unfortunately his drinking has contributed to past behavior which has been uncomfortable for you. He is welcome to come as long as he agrees not to drink alcohol. Chances are Al isn’t going to take this well. He may throw it back at you in some way, that it’s your problem not his. That’s OK. You just stay calm and use a gentle tone while maintaining your stance, “You are welcome to come as long as you agree not to drink.”

Generally, we don’t like setting boundaries because we feel mean. In reality, the meanest action is enabling a person’s unhealthy behavior. Yet, in the spirit of trying to keep the environment copacetic, we placate Al and essentially just keep putting drinks in his hand and feeling miserable while we do it. We know the answer, it just feels so harsh. Rehearse to yourself again and again, “The meanest thing I can do to Al is be untruthful and pretend everything is ok.” In addition, “The meanest thing I can do to myself is continually put myself in harm’s way.”

When we stand up to dysfunctional behavior, two positive trajectories can begin. The first is you are developing a backbone: a healthy “no” muscle that speaks what you are OK with and what you are not. The second is you give the other person the opportunity to see how their unhealthy behavior is affecting connection and relationship with others. This realization has the potential to move a person toward healthy change. Al could see that his drinking is hurting others around him. He could recognize his drinking is a problem and if he doesn’t address it he may push his family away. The Als of this world don’t always see this, that is not your concern. Your work is to set a clear healthy boundary. What Al chooses to do with it is up to him.

Previous posts intros series: Dreading the Holidays, Dreading the Holidays: Understanding and Compassion, Dreading the Holidays: Dysfunction with a Dose of Curiosity, and Dreading the Holidays: The Power of Peace

Categories: Acceptance, Boundaries, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dreading the Holidays: Dysfunction with a Dose of Curiosity

Here we are! Thanksgiving is tomorrow! You may be on your way to your Thanksgiving destination, preparing to travel, preparing your own home for the arrival of friends and family or already on the dysfunction train. Isn’t this exciting?! You are given the opportunity to practice a few skills this year. This is the first marathon you will be running over the next several weeks. Whether this is your inaugural run or you are a seasoned pro, be gentle with yourself. Do not expect perfection; it isn’t attainable.

You are ready to pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling. You will be noticing your sadness, hurt, anger, frustration and fear. You can also notice the good feelings, too. Some things will be pleasant. You are ready with the stance of seeking to understand the other person and experiencing compassion for him. A mind-set that can help with understanding and compassion is curiosity. Approach situations from a gentle position that asks the question, “Hmmm, what is going on here?”

You don’t need to come right out and ask the question aloud. You can simply observe. For years you have probably been sucked into some of the craziness going on around you without realizing what the heck was going on. This time, stop. Be aware of your own thoughts and emotions, then begin to observe the connections and disconnections, the snappy comments, the barbs. With the curiosity of a child piecing together an unknown world, begin to compassionately notice.

This is not permission to judge. I don’t mean that at all. Simply observe. Gently wonder about how Aunt Sally might be scared that you are choosing not to be married right now. What might be going on for your brother that he chooses to consistently drink excessively? You can gingerly step onto the ice of actually asking people your wonderings. You could begin going down an entirely new path for you and the people around you if you remain in that sweet spot of seeking to understand laced with compassion, staying away from judgment or trying to solve and fix the problem (previous post on this).

Big caution here: Not everyone likes to answer questions about themselves. They may find it intrusive. They might not want to be that vulnerable. Vulnerability probably contributes in some way to their pain. If so, just let it go and throttle back to simply observing without judgment. If you try to push someone into opening up, you could potentially start World War III. It is not your job to heal another, it is your job to be aware of yourself, to seek understanding through curiosity, to bring compassion. If doing your part sets the table for another to open up and allow you in to their pain, healing can happen but it can never be forced.

A second caution: If Aunt Sally does open up to you, that is trusted information. You will not be showing compassion if you go around telling others her story. If she opened up to you, then you must hold onto that information as you would a fragile treasure. It is her story to share, not yours.

I am hoping this Thanksgiving you take at least one step toward a relationally healthier you!

If you missed the first two posts on dysfunction and the holidays, here are the links: Dreading the Holidays and Understanding and Compassion

Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Dreading the Holidays: Understanding and Compassion

The first of a tightly knit string of holidays is almost here…one week for those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud or maybe you will be around an active alcoholic. For those of you who happen to posses and actively display dysfunctional characteristics, I am not slinging shame your way. Reality is reality and often our unhealthy behavior profoundly affects those around us. If you are the offender here, take a deep breath and own that your unhealthy behavior is dysfunctional and negatively affects the people around you. This may be the perfect time to get help: join a recovery group and get into therapy. As long as you are breathing you have the potential to change.

For those who are the receivers of dysfunctional behavior, remember that you are never very far from hurting others. As long as we are breathing, we are capable of hurting people around us. This awareness generally aids us with the next valuable action to help us deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him.

Understanding and its closely linked friend, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You are more easily able to feel the effects of the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto understanding this person. “Wow, that is really interesting Aunt Sally that you are so emphatic about me getting married. Are you afraid I’ll be depressed and alone if I’m not married?” You can actually have a dialogue with Aunt Sally rather than become withdrawn and shut down by her comment.

Engaging with another person from a place of understanding and compassion requires you to avoid being on the defensive. If this is too big of a step right now, that’s ok. If recognizing and understanding the barb coming from the other person is about his own issues is as far as you are ready to go at this point in your own healing process, that in itself is an accomplishment. Celebrate that you are not allowing another person’s dysfunction to sideline you from enjoying the holiday gathering.

Here’s the link to last week’s post: Dreading the Holidays?

Categories: Acceptance, Boundaries, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dreading the Holidays?

I’m sure the reasons for your yes are varied. On the top of many lists is having to deal with dysfunctional families. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and bring our own imperfections into every encounter. Since we cannot change the world or others, we can only focus on ourselves.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you will know where I am going to begin: Awareness. My favorite concept! If we don’t notice what we are thinking, feeling and doing in any given moment we cannot possibly create change. We end up being reactionary and repeating the same old miserable scenario again and again. In preparation for dysfunctional family encounters, start now by paying attention to what you are thinking and why you are thinking it. Notice what you are feeling and why you are feeling that particular emotion at this moment. Notice your attitudes, actions and words. Why are they happening? How are they connected to your thoughts and emotions?

This is the preparation phase. If you were going to run a marathon you would not likely expect yourself to run 26 miles simply by reading about running. You would have to prepare your body for such an undertaking. Think about your mind in the same way. You have to train your mind to be prepared for the challenges in life. Spending time with dysfunctional people is at least as challenging as running 26 miles. Recognize that. Affirm that for yourself. You will have to train diligently to be prepared.

There’s more to come but for now, practice awareness. Practice being in this very moment and noticing yourself. If being aware becomes too difficult for you, for instance the emotions you feel overwhelm you and you don’t know what to do with them or you cannot access any emotion, get help from a professional counselor or therapist who advocates awareness.

Categories: Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

I’m starting out with a bit of an apology for my infrequent posts.  I mentioned last summer that I am taking classes until the end of this month (the end is near!!!).  The classes are an addition to an already full life.  I realized after starting my blog that it was going to have to go on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to post at all during this time.  I have gotten a few in.  I am one of those people who like to be busy but not THAT busy.  As a therapist, I frequently remind my clients to do something good for themselves each week.  I’m a self-care pusher.  If I mean what I say, than I better be doing it.  I have to take time to fill up on a nearly daily basis in order to be effective with the time I have.  I didn’t intend for this particular blog to be about self care, but here we go again.

Maybe during the holidays it’s helpful to be reminded of our deep need to care for ourselves.  No one else is going to do it for us, nor can they.  Back to square one, the definition.  Self care is anything that you do that feeds your soul, your body, or your mind.  It has to be something you connect with, not something someone else connects with.  I love getting a massage.  You might not like being touched.  A massage is simply not going to be self care for you.  I like walking, especially outside.  You might find that boring or too slow.  Walking is not your thing.  I like reading the Bible and understanding who God is.  You might not care at all about who God is.  Reading the Bible isn’t self care for you.  Have I made my point?  If it’s not something that you enjoy or is meaningful to you, it is not self care.

There are some actions you may have overlooked that count as self care.  Things like eating (healthy food that your body needs to function), bathing, sleeping, and exercise.  If you read that and realized that you aren’t even doing the basic self-care, we need to talk!   If you are just trying to get a handle on self-care, start with the basics.  Make sure each day that you set aside time or create a system that allows you to eat healthy food.  I believe fast food is better than the chocolate bar you count as lunch.  Fast food is not ideal, but we have to be real.  A salad with grilled chicken is going to nourish your body better than that chocolate bar.  It’s possible that a chocolate bar is part of your self-care because you savor the treat, not because it is a regular part of your diet.

When you shower or take a bath to get clean, comment to yourself that this is a way that you care for your body.  As you go to sleep or upon waking, congratulate yourself for making sleep a priority.  The benefits are far reaching.  Our brain desperately needs REM sleep to process the happenings of the previous day.  Studies have shown (and we can all attest) that under-rested people tend to misinterpret the emotions of ourselves and others.  We have a harder time dealing with emotion and we tend to be grouchy.  I know that first-hand.  Under-rested people tend to make more mistakes than those who are well rested.  Exercise is well-known to enhance our mood.  Those awesome endorphins that our bodies produce when we exercise help us feel better.  Exercised bodies are generally healthier bodies.  Although it might feel grueling at times, we are helping ourselves to have more energy.

If you have mastered the basics, start adding something extra to your daily or weekly routine.  Think about the things you really enjoy.  Is it sitting at Starbucks with a friend, relaxing and catching up?  Is it curled up under a blanket watching your favorite holiday movie?  Do you savor soaking in knowledge? Do you get pumped up watching a sporting event?  Maybe for you it’s creating something: in the kitchen, the garage, a studio?  If it’s something that takes a bit of time, it might have to be a once a week or twice a month event.  Make sure you get at least an hour of self-care, above the basics, each week.

It’s especially important to get self care in our schedule when life gets busy, like right now.  It helps us be more balanced.  It increases healthy perspective and clarity.  We are more effective in the way we live life when we are caring for ourselves versus when we are not.  I know this is true.  I have experienced times in my life when I have been horrible at self-care.  “There just isn’t time!”  “This is a ridiculous expectation!”  I experience internal chaos when I am low on self-care.  I cannot think as clearly, I am more likely to get defensive; I throw my skills out the wind and say, “Screw it!”  All hell seems to break loose eventually.  The times when I have been the unhealthiest emotionally are the times when I have not taken very good care of me.  When a few days go by and I haven’t done much to care for myself, I stop and tell myself I’m headed for a train wreck.  Do I want that? No!  I find inspiration to take care of myself when I realize the consequences of ignoring my needs are tragic.  Self-care is a need…not a luxury.

Categories: Boundaries, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holidays, Family, and Boundaries

With the arrival of the holiday season comes a variety of stressors. Where to spend the holidays is a big deal. For some families, the decisions made by a renegade can spark World War III. We typically don’t enjoy doing that and so we quietly acquiesce and do whatever we are told all the while dreading the holiday. Is that really how you want to spend the time? Continuing on with my most recent “boundary” post, remember that boundaries are about protecting and defining. You are the keeper of the gate when it comes to your boundaries. You decide what comes in and what goes out. This applies to families and holidays in addition to everyday life.

My family has a tradition of gathering together for Thanksgiving. We usually go to Aspen, where I grew up and my family owns a hotel. It is actually the perfect situation because we all have plenty of room at the hotel. My parents, seven siblings, and I gather together with all our spouses, significant others, and children. Most of the “children” are now adults and have added the fourth generation. We generally love gathering together. We have our issues now and then, but it’s usually a good time for all. The best part: we get to choose if we are going to be there. No one pressures us and tells us that we “have” to be there.  It’s no surprise that most of us are there every year.

Christmas has been different. Christmas is a popular time in Aspen. There usually aren’t rooms available at the hotel so we choose other locations. I can think of three Christmases when we travelled to my in-laws in New York (this was during my first marriage). Although my mother-in-law expressed a desire for us to be in New York more often for the holidays, she never demanded it. She said what she wanted and honored our choices. She never brought it back up as a way to “punish” or coerce us to be with them. I so appreciated that, more so now as I see others struggling with demanding, manipulative parents or in-laws. We typically made the trek from Colorado to New York in the summer when it was a better time for us to travel with the kids.

If you are the adult child of a manipulator/punisher, my words are this: do what you (and your immediate family) want to do. Talk about it. Do you feel pressured to travel when really what you all want to do is be at home? Is the reason you are travelling to someone else’s house because you feel obligated to be there. Obligation is not choice. Obligation comes out of an expectation that has been directly communicated or you are assuming exists. Give this idea some time…let it percolate in your mind and heart.

If you are in a significant relationship or are married discuss the ideas in the following paragraphs with your spouse or significant other. The ideas may be helpful in making a decision. Remember to process this together. It is important to honor one another’s opinions and desires. Coming to a solution may be trickier than just deciding by yourself. This may take a lot of time. Be patient with one another and figure out how to be responsible for your own boundaries while being respectful of the other’s. Spend time really listening to each other. Try to understand the other person’s point of view. This will not guarantee a solution to your problem but it will help you stop demanding your position and shift your stance to understanding the other person.

So, here’s the process. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do? Where do I want to spend the holidays?” It is your life that you are living, so why not live the way you want. If being with extended family is more stressful than you care to deal with, create your own holiday traditions. Free yourself to live your life in a way that is satisfying to you. Chances are pretty good there will be some hurt feelings. Be gentle and kind as you speak your desires. Let your family know that you love them, but you are choosing a different way to spend the holiday.

If you are choosing not to be with your family because being around them usually ends up in some sort of battle or manipulation-fest, you can address that. “When you berate me, manipulate me, criticize me (or whatever it is they do that is hurtful), I feel hurt, sad, angry, (your emotion). Since this happens during times when we are together, like holidays, I am choosing not to be there. I love you and I want a healthy relationship with you, but until that happens, I will spend my holidays in a way that works for me.”

Be assured, you will not likely hear a “thank you” after that statement. You are drawing a solid boundary that clearly states what you are OK with and what you are not OK with. Usually manipulative controlling people do not appreciate when others set boundaries. They thrive off the control of others. You do not have to own this person’s issues or responses to you. If he is angry, let him be. You do not have to listen to the insults or barbs sent your way to hurt you with the intention of manipulating you to change your mind. It will be hard but you can do it. It’s all for the purpose of regaining the reins of your life. Take a deep breath, tell him you hear his anger, but you will not continue to listen since it is becoming hurtful. You will be ready to talk when he is ready to work out how you can have a healthy relationship that honors one another. The end. No more listening, emailing, or texting. Let it go for now.

The barrage will probably start up again. Get really good at what parenting experts Jim Fay and Foster Cline say, “become a broken record” by calmly repeating yourself and ending the conversation. Most likely, you are dealing with someone who is sort of stuck as a two year old. You know, the temper-tantrum-having kind. She demands to get her way now because something went terribly wrong for her when she actually was two or at some point in her development related to setting her own boundaries. You are not responsible for that. It may be by you modeling healthy behavior and not owning her responses and feelings that she may decide to change; however, the decision for her to change is not up to you. You are taking care of your own boundary.

I’m hoping that you enjoy the holidays this year with people who sincerely encourage you and embrace who you are.

Cheers to healthy holidays spent in ways that honor your unique self!

Categories: Boundaries, Parent-wounds, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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