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, or perhaps already has changed. Either way letting go of wanting it to be different than it is or was and allowing yourself to feel the grief of 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.
Considering upcoming time with family over the holidays, take a moment now to reflect on what specifically might need your attention. Perhaps it is one of the following:
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 found 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 that would support you in creating healthy interactions with your family.
How to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence