The holiday season, and in particular the Christmas holiday, can be extremely stressful and even drama producing in families. In addition to purchasing and wrapping gifts, decorating the home, coordinating schedules for traveling, and making arrangements
for the visit, there is the whole family dynamic to be negotiated; sometimes before getting to your destination, but definitely as you arrive. I like to call it the family a-la-carte of trauma or drama.
Part of this stress and drama undoubtedly stems from the fact that although you may have been independent from your family for some time, maybe even decades, when you re-enter the “family” home or gathering you are given the same “role” to fulfill as you had as a child! For some that works out just fine. If your family role was that of the Hero, everyone wants to hear how great you have been and what you have done in the past year. If your role was the Enabler, you may slide right back in to that very busy role, unless of course, you have had a few children and need a break. But for some people, it is a role that they have fought to get out of ever since leaving home, and holiday gatherings remind them of just how dis-empowering it was as a child growing up. Sliding back into that role gives you a haunted feeling.
“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.” Richard Bach
There are a lot of ways to categorize the family roles, but I’m sure that a few will suffice to get you considering what your role may have been. If you had the role of the Family Clown or Mascot,
you made everyone laugh and it seemed that the family was not so bad and yet you were always anxious. The Hero does everything right and excels and is rewarded, but grows up never feeling good enough. The Scapegoatdraws attention away from the marriage problems and onto themselves and ends up feeling lonely and hurt. The Loner stays out of the way and keeps their mouth closed which results in low self-worth. You can also be a combination of roles. For instance, the role of can be a Loner who is chosen to be the Victim of family jokes or abuse. This is what often produces the holiday drama.
Shedding Your “Family” Role
Like many things in life, this role may have worked when you were a child, but the questions is, does it work for you now? Can you make it work on a short term basis to just get through the holidays? Or is it something you can talk to the “family” about? Maybe the shedding of your role needs to be tackled with one family member at a time. The easiest way to accomplish this change in your family dynamics will be for you to become secure in your own identity, apart from the family, and their role for you, before attempting to change how the family interacts with you. Depending on the family, you may need the support of counseling if you hope to maintain your connection to family while you enact this change. Set an appointment now, 720-982-7057, if you know you have tried establishing boundaries and the family makes it too hard to establish them or maintain your boundary. Or if you have not and need some help.
In very dysfunctional families it is not unusual for a person to stop contact with their family for a time, as a way to quiet the voices that raise up in opposition of the change you are requesting. The very best experience is for the whole family to receive counseling in order facilitate the quick transition to allowing members to grow into new roles, independent of the past and reflective of their maturity in the present.
Your Goal for the Holiday is No DRAMA
Ultimately, your goal will be to voice your needs, wants and desires in a productive way in the family. It does not mean that family members need to agree with you about your past role, or your future desires, but rather that you are notifying them of your need for how they relate to you. You want to promote the “new person” who has grown-up in ways that only you can explain. You have become an adult and have perspectives, talents, and knowledge that are different from your family, at least in some areas.
Your goal will be to be loved, valued, appreciated and hopefully respected for who you are and not as they want you to be. This is essentially a boundary setting exercise, although a very difficult one to establish.
In the workshop I hostess on Boundaries, I describe one of the functions of personal boundaries is to, “Preserve our physical and emotional energy.” You will find as you develop a greater understanding of your responsibility in setting your boundaries, even with family, that your emotional and physical energy are well-preserved. Join the MeetUp: Becoming a Healthier You to register for the Boundaries and other workshops I offer.
Have a Wonder-filled and a Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and Holiday Season.