How to Make Family Holidays Easier in Codependency Recovery

By Michelle Farris, Relationship Psychotherapist.

When you struggle with codependency, spending the holidays with family can be challenging. You want to participate but secretly you may resent it. Codependent behaviors like giving too much, saying yes when you mean no and not taking care of yourself make it hard to feel festive.

You’re not alone!

You can create a more enjoyable holiday without sacrificing yourself in the process. Let’s get started!

1. Assess Your Expectations of Family:

Assessing your expectations is the first step to a happier holiday with family.

Examples of holiday challenges in codependency are:

Your mother-in-law starts criticizing you and you try to ignore it.
Dad starts drinking too much and everyone walks on eggshells.
Your sister expects you to do everything and you can’t say no.

Going into the holidays expecting things to be different is a set up for resentment. Family time becomes even more stressful when you can’t take care of yourself.

There is a 12-step saying “expectations are premeditated resentments” meaning when you have expectations, they typically lead to disappointment.

There are certain aspects of family that don’t typically change – especially without recovery. In dysfunctional families, it’s common to struggle with feeling hurt, left out or like your needs don’t count especially when there is codependency.

How you manage those feelings can make or break the holidays and that’s what you’ll learn in this blog.

2. Practicing the Art of Acceptance:

Practicing acceptance means accepting reality as it is – even when you don’t like it. This becomes incredibly helpful when other people are behaving in ways you find unpleasant or hurtful.  

Some examples of challenging behaviors include:

Being yelled at or blamed.
Making others feel bad or guilty.
Excessive drinking or anger that makes it hard to relax.

While it’s tempting to think everyone else should change, it’s not helpful in surviving the holidays with family. In fact, it will only increase the frustration and create more feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Practicing acceptance can provide some much-needed relief. For instance, by accepting someone’s behavior, there is nothing to fix or get upset about, it’s simply part of their personality. As a result, you can let it go and remind yourself that you don’t have the power to change that behavior.

Practicing acceptance works with any dysfunctional behavior. For example, if you accept your dad’s rages, you can choose to leave the room. That way you avoid trying to control the situation but you aren’t risking your physical safety either.

Accepting a behavior doesn’t mean accepting mistreatment or abuse. It means doing what you need to do to protect yourself, not expecting the other person to change or get help.

Acceptance helps you remember that someone else’s behavior is a reflection of them and where they are emotionally – not about you. Find ways to de-personalize their behavior to decrease the hurt and negative

Some suggestions include:

Use positive self-talk or affirmations.
Remind yourself that it’s not about you.
Challenge negative thoughts or criticisms as being untrue.

Practicing acceptance is the key to lowering stress and creating a more amicable holiday.

Accepting family for who they are means giving up the struggle. The holidays become more enjoyable because you aren’t focused on trying to change others anymore. You can simply accept what is and take care of yourself around them.

Realizing that family may never change is part of acceptance. This awareness may trigger a grieving process which becomes an important stage in recovery. Accepting people as they are, creates healthier options for self-care and support.

In codependency recovery, you are no longer hoping others will change so you can be comfortable. The focus shifts to making yourself comfortable.

3. Manage Old Hurt Before the Holidays:

Another way to manage the holidays is to handle old hurts before attending family events. Journal prompts provide a powerful way to express the hurt without censoring yourself. Write the story behind what happened that has caused you pain. This helps you to honor your own experience without judging it.

Next, consider what part you may have played in the situation. While this is not easy, this step has the power to transform the story and start the process of healing.

For instance, it may be something you did or said before or in reaction to the hurtful incident. Owning your part in the situation will lessen the hurt and build empathy.

You may decide to address the issue beforehand but that’s not necessary for you to heal and move forward. If you decide it’s safe to approach them, let them know what upset you. Stick to the facts to avoid blame. If it’s not safe, then focus on journaling and getting outside support.

Final Thoughts:

While the holidays with family can be challenging, give yourself permission to do things differently this year. Even small changes can make a big impact on your holiday. Consider what your boundaries are and take baby steps to make sure you are taking care of yourself. When you take care of yourself, it benefits everyone because creating a peaceful holiday starts with you!

By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist. Get her free guide to healing holiday hurts here:

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