If only I’d have known these family holiday survival tips years ago. When I remember holidays with my family of origin, I think of stress. The image that comes to mind is everyone else laughing and having a great time, while I was miserable. I don’t remember many holidays as a child, but as an adult, holidays used to be times of emotional abuse from my parents, mostly my dad, and from my ex-husband.
While we were married, the usual pattern for my ex was to work up my emotions right before we arrived at my parents’ house. He’d feign a misunderstanding or falsely accuse me of something or he’d criticize me–whatever would upset me. By the time we arrived at my parents’ house, I’d be on the verge of tears. Then my parents would correct my bad attitude. All three of them would join against me for ruining the special day.
My daughter, Bethany, and I were both the targets of comments about our weight or other parts of our appearance and whatever other “weakness” my dad could find.
In our healing from abuse, Bethany and I have learned a few things about getting through this stressful time of year. Now we know that we deserve to have a nice drama free holiday.
We haven’t had a relationship with most of our family members in years. We celebrate the holiday differently each year–but each year, we make decisions based on what’s good for us rather than what tradition dictates or what is “expected” of us.
Being a child in a dysfunctional family taught me I’m responsible for others and caring for myself is selfish. I had a tendency to take care of other people’s feelings but neglect my own.
I used to think people earned certain rights to me if they were “nice”. If they gave me gifts or said kind things to me, I believed that gave them access to me and that I couldn’t say no. But I’ve learned nobody has the right to buy me or rent me through “loving” things they do.
Love that comes with obligation isn’t really love.
I’ve been in many relationships–with family and otherwise–where I didn’t feel comfortable walking away until I could prove they’d done something wrong. Now I know I don’t have to be with anyone I don’t want to be with. I have permission to decide how to spend my time and who I spend it with.
I also don’t have to label my family as abusive or dysfunctional to justify not spending the holiday with them or to set boundaries with them. And setting boundaries doesn’t make me mean or bad.
It’s taken Bethany and I years to feel comfortable saying no without needing to offer an explanation or excuse. We’ve gotten better at saying yes to ourselves a little at a time. Now we are confident that we don’t need permission from anyone to chose what’s best for ourselves.
If you do choose to attend your family’s gathering, here are some tips we’ve found empowering:
1. Decide your boundaries beforehand.
“I’ll join them, but I’m only going to stay for two hours.”
“If they start talking about embarrassing things I’ve done, I’m going to leave.”
“If they start getting drunk I’m leaving.”
2. Fill up on love and affirmation before you go.
Spend time with friends who are loving and affirming of your value before you face people or situations that cause you to doubt it.
3. Take an ally with you.
If your family treats you like a child, it’s easy to fall back into that role. Taking a friend can ground you to the present day and remind you you’re an adult with choices. Having an ally may help you feel more confident to walk away from poor treatment or to stand up to it.
Also, some family members may not be as likely to be abusive or disrespectful if you have someone with you.
4. Have an escape plan.
Make sure you have your own transportation and can leave anytime.
5. Know what coping methods to use and what not to use.
If you need to stay away from the adult drama, play with the children or keep busy by helping in the kitchen.
Stay present so you can monitor the situation and your feelings and take action if necessary. Drinking won’t help you to stay empowered and may make you more vulnerable. If you feel the need to drink, let that be an indication that you are feeling stress about something.
6. Have a nurturing backup plan.
In case you need to leave, have food prepared or at least available. Plan comforting or empowering things to do–like watching movies or something else that you enjoy. Finish a project if you feel up to it or call a friend.
Bethany and I no longer feel victimized by the people who supposedly love us. We choose to spend the holidays in ways that empower us. We wish the same thing for you this year. Whether or not you have a supportive family, we hope you know you’re not alone this holiday season. Your Overcoming Sexual Abuse family is here for you. Happy Holidays!
What is your holiday experience with your family? If you spend the holidays with your family, do you enjoy it or do you feel obligated? Please comment below and remember to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to participate in the discussion. You don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.