The holidays are a time when most of us wish we felt closer to our families. Some of us fake it and pretend all is good, others just hope it will be better this time. But issues we’ve had with our families often rear their ugly heads again during the holidays. We face family members who criticize us or have hurt us in the past. Since it’s a time when we’re often feeling vulnerable and more in touch with our issues with families, the holidays are a good time to try and work through those issues.
My sister and I were very close most of our lives. Then when we had to put our dad into a home, the fighting and resentments began, mostly on her part. After a holiday visit to her house two years ago that went very badly, I decided not to go back again (except once in awhile to see my dad, but I stay in a hotel or at my nephew’s). We tried to fix it, but couldn’t. We’ve been cordial to each other, but not close like before. Now, two years later, we are finally resolving our issues, and I’m very happy about that. It takes both people cooperating to resolve a relationship dispute. Sometimes it takes time before the other person will come around. In the meantime, you have to protect yourself and hold the boundaries, not allowing someone to treat you badly. That may mean distancing yourself from them if they won’t try to resolve it with you.
And that’s what my 23-year-old client, Mary, was considering doing this Christmas – staying away from her family. As many young people (and even us older ones), she feels that her mother constantly criticizes and judges her when she’s around her. I’ve helped her stand up to her mom and tell her, but the mom’s first reaction was to defend her position, and of course criticize Mary again for her behavior of confronting her. We had a meeting last week, but actually both of them wanted to just avoid the conflict, but I pushed them. No one could figure out what they were doing to do about Christmas if they didn’t get this resolved. Mary’s mother finally realized that she was behaving badly with her, but pointed out that Mary was behaving badly too since she would not speak up when situations happened. She would sulk for awhile, and then explode and leave. We made a simple deal where Mary is supposed to speak up and let her mom know when she feels criticized or judged and then she is to hear her and try to rephrase her comment and assure her that she didn’t mean it as a put-down.
Most people avoid conflict at all costs. It’s this avoiding of conflict that keeps resentments going and keeps people from being close. People often talk themselves out of speaking up by saying, “Don’t blame others for how you feel, just get over it!” I agree that it’s not good to get “stuck in blame,” but you need to express your anger directly to the person you’re upset with before trying to move on, or the person will continue to treat you that way. If you don’t express your anger (directly, not passive/aggressively) to others for how they’ve treated you, nothing ever gets resolved so that you CAN “get over it” and be close again. On the other side, if you’ve hurt someone, you need to take responsibility for it, make a promise not to do it again, and help the other person “get over it” and move on, hopefully repairing the relationship.
This Christmas, reach out – whether you’re the one who has hurt someone or the one who has been hurt – whether it’s a friend, a mate, or a family member.
Closeness to family is something most of us want, and it leaves us with a calming, secure feeling when things are good with family and friends. We need this, especially at the holidays. Hopefully both Mary and her mom and my sister and I will get our issues resolved this Christmas so we can have many more happy Christmas’s together. This year, clean up an issue with someone in your life. It will make you both feel better. And if you need any help doing this, come in and we’ll work on it together!
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