Every person alive has either a physical, electronic or mental collection of photos from past holidays. Some of them give the illusion that we are all happy and normal. Perhaps that assessment is 100% true; but, all too often, we disregard the realities of life and our dysfunctional family relationships. We often prefer the illusion that it will be different this year. The truth is that past experiences are fairly good predictors of future events.
We hear that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but too often the images we’ve saved seem to speak the words of love, acceptance, joy, support and safety; when, in reality, there was abuse, fear, addiction, and pain in our families and our family gatherings.
So how does a person survive the holidays without hiding from the truth and actually enjoy the festivities? How can the most important family gatherings of the year be experienced in new and healthy ways? Here are four suggestions:
- Realize that many families struggle during the holidays. Many people think that their problematic family issues are unique and that everyone else has their act together. There are unhealthy dynamics playing out in many homes; and, to be sure, some are worse than others. The happy Facebook snapshot of the family oftentimes is hiding pain and fear. You are not alone!
- Protect yourself. Avoid attending functions or activities that you know are unhealthy, unsafe or dangerous for you. Take responsibility for your emotional, mental and physical welfare by avoiding what does not work for you.
- Find a different “family” with whom to celebrate the holidays. If being with your biological family for the holidays is unhealthy, find a new family with whom to build new memories. Your new family could consist of work associates, support group members, relationships within your religious community, or people with whom you volunteer at community events.
- Share the truth. Tell one or more trusted friends the reality behind the false pictures and attend extra support group meetings. It is said that “the truth will set you free.” How right that is! The power of the lie and the secret are broken with the truth. Be discerning on what you share and with whom. Sharing your story is a powerful way to help you heal.
As the holidays approach, be proactive. Realize your situation is not unique; protect yourself; find new people with whom to celebrate; and share your true story with at least one trusted friend. May these ideas help you find peace and hope as you experience all the holiday season has to offer.
Yale Kushner, RMHCI, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern