How to navigate the holidays with family: By Empower Counseling, Birmingham, Alabama
I recently had the honor of contributing to an article for the DailyOM written by Paige Brettington called, “Therapists’ Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Family Members”. Paige has perfect timing as how we navigate our relationships and interact with family members can make or break our holidays. Here are some of the topics covered in the article, along with some extra information on the topic.
Do you find yourself nervous or anxious about the holidays because of the relationships and how you experience them within your family? Do you dread the holidays because of the gatherings you feel you must attend?
Often we prepare for gatherings by choosing what to wear ahead of time or even what we will bring with us. This time, how about spending a little time preparing mentally for the upcoming holiday season?
What are your triggers or hot topics?
Have you ever been at a family gathering and become really upset and could not figure out why afterwards? This time do things differently.
Before the family get together, spend time pondering what topics or triggers upset you. Is it when a family member asks why you haven’t graduated yet? Is it the topic of dating or marriage? Are you feeling lost and struggle when anyone asks you how your job is going or what your plans for the future are? When you become aware of what your triggers are you will be able to navigate them in a more helpful way.
At Empower Counseling we teach mindfulness techniques to become aware of these unhelpful thoughts that trigger you so that you can separate from these thoughts. When you are able to separate from these thoughts instead of becoming tangled up in them, they will not have nearly the effect on you.
Validate your feelings attached to these triggers
Whatever your triggers are, it is OK to feel how you feel about them. Do not minimize how you feel by telling yourself you should not feel that way…..that you should just get over it. That is not helpful and will not make you feel any better. In fact, minimizing your emotions in this way will make you feel worse.
Become curious and Lean into your triggers: how to navigate the holidays with family
Why is it that you become upset about these topics? Is it the topic itself or the person asking (or telling you what you should do)?
If it is the topic, then becomes curious and lean in. Are you triggered because you are not where you want to be where that subject matter is concerned? Is the topic something that is important to you?
If it is an area of life that you value (it is important to you), are you where you want to be where that part of your life is concerned? Are you on the right path to get there, taking action toward it? Or are you stuck, and that is why you are so triggered?
If this is an area of life that you value and you are not on the path toward it, what action can you take to change that for the better? Maybe you are simply triggered because you are not where you want to be. How can you get there?
Is it a boundary issue?
Establishing boundaries with family members can be tough. But believe me relationships without firm boundaries are tougher. Boundaries are crucial to teaching others how they must treat us. If a nosey aunt gets no push back from you when she asks inappropriately personal questions that are none of her business, how is she going to know that if you don’t set a boundary? If she was aware she was crossing a line, she wouldn’t be the way she is. You must determine what you want your relationships with different family members to look like. Then create the boundaries necessary to have those relationships.
It is not enough to create boundaries to teach others how you must be treated. You must also know what the consequences for not respecting such boundaries will be. Boundaries are worthless without consequences.
Focus on your values: how to navigate the holidays with family
After you become aware of your triggers, spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of your holidays. Are there particular family members you can’t wait to see? Are there special dishes you can not wait to eat? Is it the pace of the holidays you enjoy the most?
It is time to focus on what you do want out of the holidays, instead of what you want to avoid. When the holidays are over, what do you want to be able to say about how you spent your time? What do you want to be able to say about who you were and how you showed up for yourself and others?
You Don’t Have to go.
Last but not least, let’s talk about situations or gatherings that no matter how you prepare for, you just really do not want to go. Who says you have to? Remember, you almost always have a choice. Maybe the choices all stink, but you have choices. Think about your choices and the consequences of each choice. Are you simply guilting yourself into going? Are others trying to guilt you into going? You get to decide. Am I going to go and use the tools mentioned above, or am I choosing a different route this year and heading out on vacation? Let your values be your compass and you won’t go wrong.
Kathryn, Adam, and Kristine of Empower Counseling, all practice Acceptance Commitment Therapy. ACT is a proven effective therapy for anxiety counseling and counseling for depression. ACT is also highly effective in helping clients find clarity around their values and establishing boundaries. When you are clear about what is important to you, and you are able to create boundaries to protect what is important to you, you will enjoy better relationships, as well as, higher self-esteem and self-confidence.
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Contact Empower Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama and begin your path to a more enjoyable life today.