Every family has problems. You just don’t see them on social media because that’s where you post picture perfect portraits of family gatherings. But trust me, every family has issues. And you’re bound to come across at least one challenge or two when you all get together and pretend to be joyfully compatible in the name of the holiday.
The fact is, though, you probably never were that compatible to begin with. As an adult, when you go back home to your nuclear family, you tend to slip into the role you played as a child. Your older brother is mother’s golden boy who can do no wrong. Your middle sister is the peace-maker, trying to get everybody to behave. And you are the baby of the family whom everyone still treats like a baby, even though you’ve been a responsible adult for years. It can bring back old memories of strife and stress. Before you know it, you are fighting the same old fights you used to fight.
It helps to think in advance what bumps in the road you might encounter when you go home for the holidays.
Harboring Jealousy and Resentment – Your golden boy brother is still mother’s favorite. And even though you’ve come to terms with this truth long ago, it can hurt when you’re reminded anew as your mother praises him. Gives him an extravagant gift while giving your sister and you short shrift. Or maybe your sister manages to get your father the perfect gift—one that you could never afford—and he extols her thoughtfulness. Old feelings of bitterness and resentment are stirred up again, and worst of all, you feel like a helpless child.
Feeling Like a Failure – The holidays are a time when everyone wants everything to be perfect, and in a quest for perfection, they overextend themselves. They spend too much money on gifts they can’t really afford. They attempt to cook treasured family recipes that they try once a year only to have the turkey undercooked or the pecans singed on the pie. They put themselves to all kinds of work decorating, cooking, running errands, putting clean sheets on the guest bedroom bed. And then, when they’re exhausted and their tempers are short, they expect to behave perfectly, too. They set themselves up for failure because they expect too much of themselves and nobody is perfect.
Struggling Against Depression – Many people suffer from depression and anxiety during the holiday season. It may begin with a lack of energy or motivation to join in the spirit of the holiday, with everyone around you bustling and busy and bursting with joy. Meanwhile, there’s always someone who makes you feel bad, either deliberately or perhaps totally innocently. Either way, remember that they really can’t make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them. Resolve before you go not to let this happen. Try to focus instead on positive holiday thoughts—faith, hope, gratitude, love—and refuse to get sucked into feeling down.
Knowing what you may encounter means you are thinking about what pitfalls to avoid. It means you are more resilient when some of the old, unhappy feelings attempt to come back. When your family treats you like a baby, call them on it. When someone wants to pigeon-hole you as irresponsible, like you might have been as a preteen, remind them that you now have a steady job and a mortgage that you pay every month. If someone says something rude, or something they know you don’t like, be calmly assertive. Tell them you you’d appreciate it if they wouldn’t say that to you, politely but firmly.
You can do this. And you might even enjoy the holidays with your family.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact