The holidays always hold several guarantees: tinsel and lights, Christmas music being played far too early in the season, and lots of difficult emotions about family. This is the time of year when we replay old hurts, traumas. And this is as predictable as hearing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in every store we visit.
This isn’t conscious. Our expectations creep in unawares, like a child tiptoeing around late at night, looking for Santa — except it is us, looking for the love, approval, affection, validation we never received. We think, If I just give a little more, if I change my self, say “I love you” enough, if I heal myself enough… I will finally have the relationship I want. Because, that’s how a person who has been hurt thinks.
Yet we are not here to heal our family. We are here to heal our relationship to our self. And we are enough.
To repeat, you are not here to heal your family. They have people who will be their healer(s). It’s not you.
I have a client whose daughter is verbally abusive. She treats my client as a punching bag; insults, demeans, belittles and then kicks her out of her house. She says she’s always been unnerved by her presence; when her daughter was a small child she could sense a powder keg of fury aimed at her. While her daughter was in the womb, my client had a (correct) premonition that this would be a difficult relationship, so questioned whether she wanted the birth. Now she blames herself (which her daughter manipulates), questioning whether those feelings caused the child’s problems.
So, I asked, Why are you sending texts that say “I love you” after being verbally assaulted by her? Why aren’t you the one saying, “No, it’s you who needs to leave?” It’s gotten bad for her. Her health is suffering, as well as her self-respect.
This may sound extreme, but she’s far from my only client in this boat. Family relationships have huge implications on our mental, emotional and physical health. Engaging with toxic family members can be extremely debilitating. For many, the choice truly boils down to: “your family or your life.”
So why is it so hard to listen to our intuitive voice that chooses love, the one that chooses “ME”. The one who knows, “No. This is not right” and then does what anyone in a burning building, or being chased by a maniac with a knife, would do– get out?
It’s painful to feel the full extent of our pain. The fact that you could be bleeding out on the floor and they would walk on by (while you, of course, would give your last kidney for them)…is really painful. It hurts to let that in. Instead, like a hot potato, you take that emotional energy of pain and rejection and send it flying over to them, again, hoping they will give you what you want and relieve you of this awful energy. They never do.
Or we may have child logic. To the child-self who earns love to survive associates autonomy and boundaries as death, abandonment, betrayal of their codependent family– to love our self enough to be separate, to be in self-dignity and self-respect, is to do the very thing you were told not to do. Even to end a pattern that has joined us “together” is akin to death. Ironically, many of us are still stuck believing we need to survive a childhood that we’ve already survived. No, we don’t need to walk back into the Scorpion den. We did that already!
It’s Scorpio New Moon. We’re entering the holidays. It’s time to get honest and real about how we’re perpetuating old wounds in our families. Do we enter the same old argument and expect different results? Do we try and squeeze blood from a turnip?
What’s your “catnip”? The triggering thing they always say, or a version of it, that sets you off on a tangent; the crippling emotional habit you reach for, like crack cocaine, that sends you into a downward spiral and guarantees misery? Guilt? Shame? Needing to be believed? Needing to be understood?
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s difficult to not fall down the rabbit hole of a pattern. It’s difficult to draw a boundary. Ironically it is difficult to choose your own self-love and feeling good, over a relationship that has provided you years of drama. It brings up fears. We fear being alone. We fear not seeing our grand-babies, nieces, nephews. We fear… it all. But is it worth the price?
Maybe we can’t avoid family. And sometimes, despite the high cost, we don’t want to. We want to be around them. If you plan to be around family members that run the gamut from slightly dis-resonant to totally toxic, I suggest a holiday survival strategy.
For instance, for me, I know there are certain topics that are unsafe for me to bring up with certain people. I also have a time limit; after a certain time I will start losing my center. And I also know I will need recovery time, sometimes a few days after, before I feel back to normal. I build this into my understanding and structure of our visit. I acknowledge there may be consequences.
Because if you know the stove is hot, you don’t reach for it without mittens, or a full body suit — right?
But I’d love for you to do more than just survive your family. I dare you to give your self a gift this holiday season. Chances are, it’s the one you’ve been wanting your entire life: Stop asking your family for the gift they could never give you. Stop looking for their acceptance, approval, understanding, love. Stop pouring your light and love into a closed heart. It’s your turn to receive the greatest gift, ever — the one that only you can give to you.