Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dysfunctional Holidays - Forced to be Together

Yesterday on TV I heard someone say that the most awkward moments happen at the holidays when people are "forced to be together".  I have to question the societal attitude that we need to be “forced” together during the holidays.  I am one of those people who strongly believe that every adult person makes choices and as adults – very important here - we can choose not to be “forced” into holiday situations that are awkward.

I have been thinking about this topic for three weeks – but it was the person on TV yesterday that helped the topic to coalesce in my mind.
  • This past Thanksgiving I had a friend who consumed massive amounts of alcohol to make it through Thanksgiving with her family.
  • For about 20 years I would start drinking at about noon to make it through Christmas Eve with my siblings.
  • The past two years I have seen a friend sit at home waiting for her son to come over on Christmas Eve  or Christmas Day – passing up invites to other events – only to be left sitting alone, because her son doesn’t show up on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • I have had another friend who for years spent thousands of dollars taking her entire family to fancy resorts or cruise trips for the holidays. Her reward: everyone complaining about almost everything; no one having fun; and no one saying “thank you” at the end of the holiday vacation.
  • About 15 years ago my nephew told me he “hated Christmas” because of the Christmas Eve’s he was forced to celebrate with my family while he was growing up. That is so incredibly sad.   His holiday angst was the motivation for this entry.  When I was with my nephew I told him that I was so sorry for what happened and that he needed to let go of the past and make new holiday traditions that were happy for him and to move past what happened when he was a kid.  I told him I would be willing to pay for him to see a shrink to help him work through the trauma that had occurred because of our “family” Christmas Eve.  I told him it was important for him to be able to make new holiday traditions that brought joy and happiness.
All of these situations are heartbreaking.  They are caused due to centuries of belief that we have to be with family over the holidays, "forced to be together", – regardless of how emotionally draining or hurtful that experience can be.  We have been led to believe that the holidays “will be” a happy occasion when in fact for many the holidays with our family - are not, have not been, and probably will not ever be – happy occasions.

Looking at posts on the web, the percent of dysfunctional families is noted at between 80 and 95%.  A dysfunctional family is defined as “is a family in which conflict, abuse, misbehavior by various family members takes place on a continuing basis”.  The AMA notes that 72% of families have a person with an addiction.

These are excellent statistics that may explain why the holidays may suck for some of us.  What makes the holidays suck?  When do we truly realize that our current holiday traditions are not working for us?  How do we make the holidays a truly joyful experience?

First, we all know what makes the holidays suck for us.  I don’t need to give you examples.  You know who makes you sad, who fights with you at the holidays, who makes you cry at the holidays and what makes you drink,

So – what can you do to make the holidays a more joyful experience?  Well, you may have to defy the common statements you hear in the media - "forced to be together".  You may have to choose to make different holiday traditions that don’t include those people who make you cry, who make you sad, who intentionally fight with you or make you to reach for the alcohol.  It’s a tough choice – but it may be one that you need to consider carefully  – you may have to choose not to spend time with your entire family or specific members of your family.

You will see numerous articles on ways to “survive” the holidays.  Why would you want to “survive” the holidays – you deserve better than that.   If arguments, fights, excessive drinking or drug use have been on-going holiday traditions – why do you do that to yourself and your kids?  Who in their right mind would intentionally choose to put themselves and their family into a situation like that?

You can not fix these people –
  The toxic person in the family
  The drunk in the family  
  The drug addict in the family
  The person who makes other people cry in the family
  The person who always picks fights with other people in the family
  The person who always makes others feel inferior at the holidays
You can not fix these people – as hard as you try, they need to fix themselves. We should not be co-dependent to the behavior of these people just because they are family. We should not allow them to destroy our holidays and the holidays of our children. They need to know that there are consequences for their behavior.  One of those consequences may be that you choose not to include them in your holiday tradition.
I am an absolute believer that there can be people in our family who are nasty or toxic and can ruin every holiday for everyone. 

Life is too short to be spending time with people who make you miserable.  When you get close to death – and we all die – you will not be wishing you had spent more time with people who hurt you or made you unhappy. 

It’s not too late this year (probably) to make other choices and other plans.  But this could be the year that you take a really good look at your holidays. 
  • Who do you enjoy spending time with? 
  • Who are the people who make your holidays happy? 
  • How can you change your holiday celebration so that you and your family are happy? 
  • What plans can you make for next year that will make a difference and lead to happy memories and a joyful holiday? 
  • How do you come up with ways to spend more time with those people who give you joy and who you enjoy being around at the holidays and less time or no time with those people who cause you pain. 
Don't fight about it - by doing that YOU become part of the problem.  Just make other plans.  It may take some courage on your part.  But really, is being miserable the only alternative?  I would hope not.

So make a New Year Holiday Resolution, right now, to make the 2012 holidays the best they can be - choosing a Happy Holiday in 2012 and beyond.

Take a really good look at this year’s holidays – think about it – put the booze down and pay attention.  Talk it over with your spouse or significant other – put it all out on the table and find compromises that will provide joy and happiness for you, your spouse or significant other, and your kids for the  holidays.  

It may take you an entire year to make it happen – it’s a big change and may take careful planning – start working on it now!  Please don't be "forced to be together".

It’s your choice – you’re an adult – and I have faith that you can make good choices and appropriate compromises that will make you and your family happy at the holidays.

"Forced to be together"

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