It sounds like something everyone should be able to do, right? Not quite, spending too much time with our families can place a great amount of stress on us and can require weeks to recover to our emotional balance.
We have expectations about our families
“It will be different this year”
“We’ll have an opportunity to connect”
“We’ll be fine and have a good time”
When the reality sets in and we start realising that it’s actually stressful, maybe even toxic, many of us begin to experience quite a degree of anxiety. We may also start to feel angry at ourselves for even feeling this way toward our family members …
Well, the truth is that because they are laden with so many expectations of what families are supposed to be and feel like, holidays with family become a stressful time for everyone.
Dealing with those difficult moments
Slow down and avoid functioning from a place of reaction. Remember that this is a temporary situation and that it will eventually be over.
So, your pushy relative asks why you haven’t had kids yet …
Your parents rush to interfere and console your kids every-time you are parenting them …
Your mother in-law goes round the house giving you cleaning tips implying that you are not dedicating enough time to your family …
Your insensitive uncle keeps asking why you aren’t married yet …
the list goes on …
First of all, understand that you have the right to be unhappy and upset. By accepting that most families, including our own are far from perfect it becomes much easier to accept the way we feel about them. The intrusions, the pushiness, the inappropriateness, the entitlement … all stuff that would drive anyone up the wall and round the bend!
So once you’ve made peace with your feelings it is helpful to stop judging yourself for being a bad daughter, ungrateful son, failed parent … etc etc etc … (notice that the list of negative things that these situations can make us believe about ourselves can be endless)
This acceptance of feelings should lead us to a more realistic and compassionate approach to ourselves. The same goes for the others! The list of expectations and negative thoughts about themselves are more likely than not to be driving their own behaviour!
The situation is what it is and it doesn’t mean we have the right to make them feel the way we’re feeling. In fact, it’ll only make the situation worse. Sometimes just acknowledging that you’re annoyed is enough to give you room to deal with the frustration and anger. If it’s not enough, practice a coping skill like deep breathing, or talk yourself down from the situation by telling yourself, “They don’t mean to be annoying,” or, “Things will calm down once I get settled.”
In order to get in touch with ourselves we need to practice “the pause” or to take a step back and buy some time. Take a few deep breaths, accept your emotions and bring in your rational mind. It’s ok to distance yourself and create some emotional space between you and them. You can say you’ll talk about it later. That will give you time to relax and think about how you want to deal with the situation if you want to talk about it at all.
Develop a strong sense of self – we don’t have to agree on everything
Your well-being does not have to depend on what others say or don’t say, but more on what you personally think. The presence of our families can tend to weaken our sense of who we are and our sense of self. Focus on managing your own anxiety rather than the behaviour of others. We don’t have to be the way everyone in our family expects of us.
We can be a part of our family while still being true to ourselves, having our own opinions. By paying attention to your body, mind, and emotions when you’re interacting with your family, you become capable of balancing your co-occurring needs for togetherness and individuality. Remember, you don’t have to always agree with your family. Being related doesn’t mean you’ll get along in every situation, share the same political views, or even enjoy each other’s company.
Let go of the fantasy
Just because we are meeting up or spending the holidays together, we don’t have to become a picture-perfect family to enjoy it.
Anthea D’Amico is a counsellor and supervisor at Willingness. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or 79291817.