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Family and the Holidays

As you find yourself in the holiday season, you are likely faced with issues from your family of origin, even if you don't spend time with them.  Holidays, can be helpful markers, revealing where reactivity still lives and where healing has occurred.  Though, it's often difficult and painful work, you are dedicated to learning and growing and know that this means transforming your relationship to your family.  Healing and empathy for yourself, compassion for your family, and setting boundaries are three important parts of this journey.

Whatever "mistakes" you have made with each other, it's up to you to begin your own healing.  Receiving empathy for yourself is a helpful place to start.  This means telling your family story to someone who can listen with empathy and offer empathy guesses.  It also means, and this can be the hardest part, accepting that a family member(s) can't or won't be there for you in the way for which you long.  This might change, of course.  Either way letting go of wanting it to be different than it is or was and allowing yourself to feel the grief about how you aren't or weren't cared for is an essential part of the healing path.

The next piece is making sure that you are meeting the needs that you had hoped your family would meet.  If you have attached to the idea that a family member will meet particular needs for you, you may have unconsciously set these needs aside awaiting the day that that person will show up.  This leaves you with a consistent sense of disappointment and pain and blocks the healing process.  It also keeps family members stuck in particular family roles.

It's a vulnerable thing to allow others to be close to you and contribute to you in a way that you had hoped a mother, father, sister, or brother would. It requires courage and wise discernment.  Slowly though, as someone earns your trust, you can ask yourself to share a little more openly and to reach out for support a little more often.

As you experience a greater sense of resilience and agency with regard to the relationship with your family, you may be ready to reflect on the path each of them has traveled, guess his or her feelings and needs, and find compassion in your heart.  You might do this with them in person, in a letter, or just on your own.  

Having compassion doesn't mean excusing particular behaviors or letting go of boundaries.  Sometimes the only way you can maintain a sense of compassion is to set clear boundaries.  You might find that when you are with family members in a certain context or after a certain amount of time you lose a sense of who you are and fall back into old family roles.  Practicing old reactive patterns isn't helpful for anyone.  

Get clear about how much time or in what context you can be with your family and stay connected to your values and what's authentic for you.  You might find that you can maintain integrity with your values through a two hour dinner for example, but going longer than that you find yourself reacting, so you set a boundary around time.  Or you might know that particular topics of conversation trigger old patterns and so you set a boundary around those topics.  Whatever boundaries you set with your family, the purpose of those boundaries is to allow you to show up authentically in your biggest self; a perspective from which you are connected to your own goodness and lovability and the goodness and lovability of your family.

Before joining with family, take time to set your intention and articulate the boundaries you would like to keep to yourself, a supportive friend, or family members if possible.  Also, consider what sources of support you might need to maintain groundedness while with your family.  For example, maybe you find a yoga class or two to attend or set aside time for meditation.  If you are with a partner, perhaps you set aside time for debriefing and empathy at the end of each day.  Taking care of yourself fully with family will allow you to enjoy them and enjoy yourself.

Practice

Here is a summary of things that might need your attention before time with family:

  • Empathy for your own pain and unmet needs

  • Accepting what's true in the past or present about your family and grieving unmet needs

  • Reclaiming and attending to needs that you might have set aside based on the circumstances in your family of origin

  • Reflecting on the lives of each family member with empathy guesses around behaviors you find challenging

  • Setting boundaries with your family that allow you to show up in your biggest self with integrity and compassion.

  • Making specific requests from a partner or friend to support you in creating healthy interactions with your family.
  • Planning activities that keep you grounded and resourced.

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10 Responses

  1. Nov 05, 2015
    Corrie Lee

    Thank you so much for the wisdom you offer regarding empathy and boundaries as methods for maintaining integrity while re-connecting to family members at the holidays when there's still pain.
    Your message meets my needs for support, learning, and connection.

  2. Dec 21, 2016
    Kate Strong

    Hi LaShelle, was it this time last year I was doing a course with you online about the holidays and my fear of xmas day. What a difference a year makes. Im a complete 180 degrees away from where I was then. I got really sick this year and asked my parents to look after me, i went to their house and I was looked after like nothing I had ever had before. I was a mess. They loved me, cared for me, fed me, and it was like receiving everything I always wanted in my childhood.

    We now text daily and talk all the time and I am looking forward to seeing them xmas day at my house. I am experiencing xmas like I have never done before, with such a sense of giving and warmth and participation.

    I still have a thyroid condition but boy it brought me to a place of surrender.

    Hope you are well xxxx Merry Xmas xxx

  3. Dec 21, 2016
    Anke Bisschops

    Dear LaShelle,

    Thank you for your precious gems of wisdom!

    I live in the Netherlands and I wish more people would be able to profit from your wisdom. Is there a possibility to share your gems on Facebook? I would love that!

    Warm regards, Anke

  4. Dec 22, 2016

    Hi Anke,

    so happy to know this is landing in the Netherlands. Yes, I also publish these on my business facebook page and would be happy for you share. You can click on the icons on my website for both twitter and facebook. Here is the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wiseheartpdx

  5. Dec 22, 2016

    Wow, Kate I am delighted to hear it. What a incredible healing gift to all of you! Thank you for taking the time to share this

  6. Dec 22, 2016

    Your welcome Corre, thank you for writing!

  7. Dec 24, 2016
    Pam in Minnesota

    Hi, LaShelle -
    I sent this link to the e-mail list for my practice group and got several grateful responses. I just re-read it to remind myself why I thought it was worth sending and I see now - it is very clear, thoughtful, straightforward, and true. I suggest that you keep this one to re-send every year, seriously. I think you've distilled the essence of how NVC can help us show up with compassion for self and others at family gatherings that may be fraught with triggers. Thank you so much.

  8. Dec 29, 2016

    Hi Pam,

    Thanks so much for your specific feedback! It's nourishing to hear. Good idea, an annual gem it is :)

  9. Nov 21, 2017
    Bob Rosengard

    I'm thankful for this post, especially for the part about being responsible for meeting your own needs!

    All the best!

  10. Nov 21, 2017
    Christine

    Thanks, again, LaShelle, for your timely and compassionate wisdom. It reminds me of the struggles I've faced and how far my brothers and I have come. My dad died 17 years ago; my mom, 11. I'm going to share this w/ my 12-Step Workaholics group and also my brothers and niece. Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving.
    Christine

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