Home for the holidays– for some, this phrase evokes warm memories of family gathered together. For others, the phrase evokes a tremendous amount of anxiety, wondering how to manage complex and strained family relationships.
Family issues and conflicts are as varied as they are common. One of the most common sources of family stress are, the judgments that are, often expressed surrounding your life choices. Maybe it’s a grandmother who can’t understand your decision not to marry your partner and constantly asks you if you have any announcements to make. Or a father who openly comments on how foolish it is for you to raise your children in the city. Maybe your mother wants to know when you are finally going to give her grandchildren. Or perhaps it’s a grandfather who wants to know when you are going to come to your senses, give up your fledgling start-up company and get a real job. Whether these types of comments are made openly or through snide jabs, they can instantly zap your self-esteem and leave you with the deflated feeling that you have disappointed your family. Or, they can evoke anger and lead to retaliation. You can find yourself making similar judgmental comments back to family members. Whether your response is to stew in your own misery or lash out in anger, chances are you aren’t going to be creating heartwarming family memories to bring into the New Year.
So, what can you do to break familial patterns that have likely been part of your family as long as you can remember, and maybe even longer? Talking is a start. Often times, people think, this is just how my family is and it will never change. Well, it definitely won’t change if no one speaks up– so why not let that someone be you? If you feel like you are the target of constant criticism and judgment, speak up! Remember you are an autonomous adult now, so it is speaking up for yourself, not back-talk like when you were a child.
Perhaps try something like this, “I’m going to assume that your criticism of my lifestyle comes from your love for me and a desire to see me happy. However, I find it to be hurtful and demeaning. It also seems to be reflective of your values and goals and not mine. I would appreciate it, if you would not criticize my lifestyle in the future.” If no one has ever spoken up before, this might be quite shocking to the system, which is what you want. You want to get everyone’s attention and let them know that the status quo has been detrimental to you. You may even learn that it has been detrimental for others, as well.
The suggested statement above follows a formula– point out a behavior, state how it affects you and then ask for change. Clearly, one statement over a holiday dinner table is not going to break through years, maybe even generations, of harmful family dynamics, but it is a start. Hopefully, this start will lead to more conversations within the family about how some behaviors have been harmful to the family and everyone will agree to commit to making changes that will lead toward harmony.
Of course, not all starts are successful; and unfortunately, some families will not be open to examining the dynamics and making changes. Here, it is really important to realize that your behavior is the only behavior you can control. It may be helpful to work with a therapist to develop some strategies for managing the impact that your family’s behavior has on you. Whether, you are able to bring your family on board for change, or you hire a therapist to help you manage your role in the family, the process will not be easy and there will be times when people revert back to old behaviors. Wouldn’t it all be so worthwhile if at some point in the future, you can actually look forward to going home for the holidays?
© Copyright 2010 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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