You Can’t Pick Your Family: Tips for Getting Through the Holidays with Relatives

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Navigating family time this holiday season

With the holidays approaching, now is the time for fun, fruitcake and family. Family comes in many forms whether by blood, marriage, adoption or shared experience, such as military service or college years. While many of us light up at the thought of sipping  hot chocolate and ogling old family photos for hours on end, others are less eager to spend extended periods of time with family. This may be due to past trauma, small squabbles or simply a struggle to relate. Whatever the reason, here are some tips to help you navigate family time this season.

You are an individual being. 

From the hairs of your head to the swirls of your fingerprints, you are a divinely crafted masterpiece with a unique purpose. You do not have to conform to pressure from family to be what they desire you to be. My favorite professor during my undergraduate studies at Howard University used to say that we come through our family, not from them. I found freedom in these words. Our parents are simply the vessels through which we came to earth. Many who have less than ideal parental relationships fear that one day they will become like their parents, but we are not bound to this fate.

Observe, don’t absorb.

WOOOSAAA.This saying has gained popularity within the last decade. It was used in the film Bad Boys by a character attending anger management classes. Anytime he would become distressed or upset, his therapist would say “remember… WOOOSAAA.” He'd repeat the chant to become calm. When entering a stressful environment, it’s easy to become sponge-like and absorb interactions with our surroundings, especially unhealthy ones. Be a rock, not a sponge.

Set boundaries.

What does that mean?  It’s quite simple. Boundaries are the lines that determine where we end and where someone else begins. Boundaries show others how to treat us and demonstrate which behaviors or treatments we accept and which we don’t. The way in which we allow others to treat us can be tied to our self-worth or need for acceptance. Your thoughts, opinions, views and decisions are yours and no one else's.

Alone or Lonely?

Being lonely and being alone are very different. You can be in a room full of people and still feel completely alone. This feeling often stems from a disconnect from the world around you and sometimes even a disconnect from yourself. We learn to disassociate to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. This results in the alienation of those we love. Try connecting with that which brings you joy, be a close friend and establish your own traditions. Plan a day filled with a few of your favorite things. Take time to reflect on this year, create goals for the next year and list all that you’re grateful for.

Maximize the good and refuse to let people or circumstances dictate your disposition. May you experience joy, peace and love this holiday season.


Candyce Anderson, M.S., L.P.C. is a licensed therapist helping victims of abuse and trauma find peace and live well. She is the author of the Love TAPS: Red Flags of An Abuser & How to Get Out. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ceandersonlive.