Post from 11/23 about Family and Holidays

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow and the 2011 holiday season beginning, many people are confronted with dealing with their family issues, past traumas, and other related struggles. This post will address some of the challenges that arise for some adults especially during this season… This post could have also been entitled: Is it OK to take a break from your “family or origin” or even choose to cut off all forms of contact with specific family members or limit forms of contact with them?

There are many adults living in the New York area who are faced with a more complicated family situation, the question being, “Do I accept my family’s invitation to go home for the holidays?” Many people only see there families around holiday time. For some, this is their favorite time of year. A lot of people love cooking their favorite dishes, going to their parents’ o difficult r other relatives’ homes to visit, seeing family members they don’t see often, etc. For some, holidays bring up positive memories. however, unfortunately for many other people that we therapists work with or know personally, this time of year is extremely stressful, and can trigger unpleasant, even traumatic memories.

For many people, this time of year brings on the onset of seasonal depression or what I would term “holiday depression”. For some people who are in the hospital due to mental or other medical illnesses, the depression is around missing the holidays with their families. Then there are the folks whose families live far away. For some of the latter group, the question arises: do I go home for the holidays or skip it this year and find an alternate way to celebrate in New York, perhaps with other friends who have made the same choice, or even ignore the holidays altogether? Sometimes, people need to be able to pose this question to themselves and contemplate their options without feeling guilty or like a bad son or daughter. It can be liberating to simply pose the question and realize that you have choices and that going home to see your parents/relatives is indeed a choice and not a mandate…

For some, for many reasons, their relationships with one and/or both parents or parental figures, is a complex, difficult, emotionally challenging and conflictual one. In this post I will be addressing and discussing the challenges this group of young adults and adults face. Whether you are 20 or 40 or in your fifties, you may be facing this challenge. There may arise a question such as, “Do I want/need to deal with x person(s),with whom I still harbor a lot of anger and pain, right now?” Other relevant more extreme types of questions may include, “Do I have to even remain in contact with this person? Can I limit contact with him/her? Can I cut off contact altogether with this person for an unspecified amount of time?”

First of all, feelings of guilt and shame need to be put aside for the questions to arise and be addressed. You may need a kind of permission from a therapist or friend to even allow yourself to ask these emotionally laden questions, and then ultimately, you will need to give yourself permission to pose these questions to yourself. Journalling about the feelings that come up can be helpful. For those who may simply want to take a time out from their family member(s), it is important to know that this is a choice for you and an option to consider. Check in with yourself as to what comes up for you when you imagine going home for the holidays. If you are noticing feelings of dread, anger, sadness, guilt, wanting to avoid thinking about it, it may be a good idea to try out visualize yourself choosing alternate ways to spend the holidays, such as going to visit someone with whom you have a good relationship, visiting a partners’ or friends’ family, or even just staying here… It is almost another complex topic to discuss the questions around limiting or cutting off contact from family members, especially parental figures, however, I have noticed that the holiday time affords the opportunity to face and deeply with this very complex emotional issue.

Since this post has become longer than expected, I have decided to address this question in the next post. Please feel free to comment on these topics, either personally or if you are a therapist, from you personal or professional experiences…

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