I clearly remember that feeling of anticipation and dread whenever I’d have to attend a family affair; the worry that my life was about to be criticised, belittled, and joked about. I didn’t want to sit at a table or in a circle around the living room with my family. The pressure to appear to be a nice, happy family was huge—and it usually ended in a fight over something insignificant. Depending on the size of the affair, I would be nervous about it for a long time in the lead-up. Imagining all the ways in which my family would be able to shame and blame me, ate away at me until the day arrived.
There is such pressure to be that perfect loving family, and so the efforts are doubled to project that image to the world. There is extra strain on us to let the outside see that perfect family around Christmas time, but as survivors, I am sure we also all remember that feeling of putting in plenty of emotional overtime to try and make our abuser happy. If we just get him that perfect gift or cook her that stunning 6-course meal. If only we can make the tree perfect, or the table setting the most sparkly in the world. Maybe that will turn them from a Grinch into a Christmas morning Scrooge.
Maybe, like every family in every Christmas movie ever made, this will be the year where they will see the error of their ways.
But probably not.
The holidays bring up emotions for many people, but especially so for us survivors. It can be a good idea to prepare yourself a little for the emotional time that is bound to lie ahead.
I know I used to spend weeks trying to plan the perfect feast that would take me days to prepare. All in an attempt to buy approval from my parents and siblings, and to compensate for how awful our family situation was. What I realise, now, is that I may have approached this from the wrong angle. Making plans is fine, good even because you focus your attention on keeping yourself safe. We will speak about some ways to do that below. Planning is actually a very good idea, but the secret is in what you are actually planning for.
For years I was thinking about all the bad things that could happen when my family would get together. The hurt they would inflict on me. Fear, however, is not a very good foundation for life. So how should you plan for a confrontation with toxic people (this does not only apply to the holidays, by the way)?
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.
Instead of focusing our attention on all the different ways that the toxic person can hurt us, we need to think about the ways we can successfully protect ourselves! I know that may sound like the same thing, but it really isn’t. The latter plays to your strength and implies that you believe you have it in you to be strong—and to be successful at protecting yourself from their toxicity. It is just that belief that will give you the boost in confidence to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So when emotionally preparing yourself for the holidays, remember to plan for success!
Christmas can bring out stress in even the most peaceful people. There are gifts to buy and overcrowded shops. An elaborate meal must be cooked for family and friends. The house is to be made to look festive. The list goes on and on. Add a toxic family dynamic to the mix and the stress can be overwhelming. So let’s talk about some ideas for how to survive the holidays without losing your mind.