When the Holidays Hurt


Whether we want to admit it or not the holidays are here! Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and Christmas is all around us.

For many people this is a stressful yet exciting time. The stress usually comes from good things; scheduling parties, shopping for gifts, baking, and making sure that we keep our hearts in check to remember the reason for the most wonderful time of the year. For most of us, this is a splendid time and we look forward with great anticipation to the joy of the season.

But what if that isn’t you? What if this season brings memories of heartache or the stress of family turmoil that you could just honestly do without. If you walk into the holiday’s thinking that you might be filled with sorrow more than you will rejoice you probably aren’t alone.

Chances are all of us have something about this season that brings stress. Are you nervous or anxious over interaction with a wayward family member? Perhaps you are saddened still over the grief and loss that appears all over again when there is an empty seat at your dinner table that will never be filled with your loved one lost? If these scenarios or ones like them cause you pause as you enter into this holiday season, It’s OK and you probably aren’t alone. I can’t take away the heartache but hopefully I can help you navigate through it.

Practically speaking, if you know that you will be engaging in less than ideal circumstances with your family members or just anticipating an overall sadness that comes with this time of year, then it is helpful to have a plan. So here are three easy tips that you can use to assist when emotions seem to take over.

Know and apply your boundaries.

Just because someone is family doesn’t mean that you have to engage in deep conversation with them, or be alone with them, or even pretend that heartache doesn’t exist. If both parties aren’t in a place for reconciliation then don’t force yourself to be there.  You can still be kind but create a boundary that prevents any further heartache from taking place.  If someone is persistent and presses you for conversation or deeper discussion that you might not be ready for then you can politely thank them for wanting to talk but ask if you could plan a time to meet together when there isn’t so much holiday bustle going on.  You have recognized their request and responded with your own need.  For example, if you have a family member that is particularly challenging to be around it’s OK to limit your time with them.  Set a clear expectation of when your event will end, or if your time together is extended then make sure you have time to get away; take a walk, be alone, and recharge yourself before more family time.

Keep your nuclear family first.

So often as adults when we return home to the house we grew up in, even if we have been gone for decades, we immediately revert back to being a child. We may tend to suddenly act and feel like we did as a child when we were growing up in the home.  Being in your home or engaging in life with your parents might remind you of hurtful times or fights and anger that affected you greatly as a child.  Just being in your childhood home can be a huge trigger. Remember that as an adult you don’t have to become the child again when you see your parents or show up at home this holiday season. Strive to run to your spouse first, not your parents. Keep your nuclear families traditions alive, even if you are traveling and don’t be ashamed to say that you do something differently then they way you did it growing up. Just because you are in your parents house doesn’t mean you have to do everything just the way you did it growing up. Prioritize your marriage even as an adult child and you will find freedom to be yourself this holiday season.

Finally, and I hope it goes without saying…Keep your eyes fixed on what is important to you and your family. 

For most of us, the holiday’s are about being together and focusing on family and faith. I urge you to have a plan to make sure this happens. Keep a checklist of what is important and when stressors arise filter them through that checklist. If it doesn’t fall into one of your non-negotiables than give yourself freedom to not worry about it. For instance, are you getting worked up because your house isn’t clean enough for a hard to please family member? Prior to their arrival, clean your house to the best of your ability and then let.it.go. When the passive aggressive comments start, then remember that pleasing that person isn’t a part of your holiday plan and give yourself permission to not get caught up in it. Fix your eyes on what is important to you and your family and let the extras become just that. Extra.

It is my sincere desire that the PEACE of the season will capture your hearts and allow you to experience the hope and wonder of the holidays. May you take hold of that and let it transform your approach to the season. I trust that it will.



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