Surviving the Holidays – Part 1

Surviving the Holidays

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! Tis the season to be jolly….right? If only it were that easy. The holiday season can be challenging especially if you have difficult family members whose behavior is predictably problematic. Perhaps those challenging folks are your parents.
For the next few weeks let’s focus on dealing with difficult people around the holidays. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you anticipate family gatherings.

Can you remain an adult around your parents?

Families are like magnets. We may be grown up on the outside, but feel like a kid on the inside when we get together with parents and siblings for the holidays. I can remember my friend, Sue, taking me to visit her family during the holidays. My normally extroverted, engaging, humorous friend became a quiet, withdrawn bump on a log. Perhaps it’s because her mother never stopped talking for one second. Sue went into an old role of the detached daughter who had given up any hope of being heard. She lost herself around her parents.

When we left, I pointed out the change. “Sue, I experience you as a person full of life with creative, inspirational thoughts and ideas and lots of energy. The minute we walked through your front door, you became a disconnected zombie. Where did Sue go?”

Sue was surprised by my observation. Sue sighed, “I guess that’s true.” I learned a long time ago just to let my Mom drone on and on. She never asks me one question and I always leave feeling disappointed. There is so much about me she doesn’t know.” I always feel depressed after I am with them.

“Have you ever been honest with her about how you feel?” I inquired.
“No, I can’t get a word in edgewise,” Sue moaned.

Sue became childlike around her mom. As an adult Sue has never been honest with her Mom and pointed out her Mom’s inability to listen or her desire to be known.
Let’s use Sue’s experience as an example to learn from. Here are four ways to determine if you are an adult around your parent(s).

1. Your personality, values, demeanor and opinions are the same with your parents as they are with other people.

2. You can be honest with your parents about how your relationship could improve whether they choose to listen or not.

3. You can set boundaries and say “No,” to your parents even if you get a poor response.

4. You learn to accept what you parents can and cannot (will not) give. You can predict how they will behave and not be disappointed when you leave because your expectations are realistic.

Let’s talk about the first point today and in the next few weeks we will talk about points 2-4.
1. Your personality, values, demeanor and opinions are the same with your parents as they are with other people.

Be a detective if you will be with your family this Christmas. If you took your friends home for Christmas would they see the same person they know or someone different? Most of us adapt to difficult situations growing up by playing different roles.
• Good Kid: I made sure not to burden my parents and cause them stress.
• Clown: I used humor to reduce conflict and stress.
• Invisible One: I tried to avoid conflict and stress by hiding and didn’t expect much.
• Perfectionist: I attempted to avoid criticism or disapproval and get attention by doing things perfectly.
• Hero: I accomplished great things so my parents would be proud of me and feel like they were great parents.
• Confronter: I was passionate about the truth no matter the consequences.
• Scapegoat: I took the blame for everything and everyone.
• Surrogate Parent: I had to take care of situations that were beyond my ability to manage well because I was just a kid. Too much was expected of me.
• Surrogate Spouse: I had to be there for one of my parents in his/her spouse’s absence emotionally and/or physically. Perhaps I became the counselor as my parent(s) shared their problems and expected me to listen.
• Black Sheep: I was labeled the bad kid for acting out and doing my own thing. I rebelled against the system.
Which role did you play? Are you still playing it? What would happen if you stopped? If you wanted to stop how would your behavior have to change?
Sue played the role of the “Invisible One” in her family. Outside her home she grew out of this role and learned to become more whole. Around her family she unwittingly returned to what was familiar and comfortable.
More to come next week!