How to Navigate the Holidays and Avoid the Codependency Trap

By Kevin Petersen MA, LMFT.

While Thanksgiving may have passed, many more holidays are quickly approaching. For some
families, the holiday season is a welcome, happy opportunity to spend with family and friends.
For others, it’s pure chaos.

Families struggling with an addict often find the holiday season to be the most stressful,
exhausting time of the year. This year, let’s help you change that: here’s now to navigate
through the holiday season and avoid the codependency trap.

What is the codependency trap?

The codependency trap is when you – the family member of the addict – fall back into the old
system or old way of doing things because it feels easier to avoid conflict. Often, you may find
yourself thinking, “I won’t tell him that his behavior bothers me because he’ll go even crazier.” In
a codependency trap, you feel concerned and worried about other people’s feelings. The
codependency trap often causes resentment and a downward spiral of frustration.

The first step in avoiding the codependency trap, reducing resentment, and setting yourself up
for a happy holiday season is to recognize that your needs come first. An addict will use
everything to their advantage to get what they want. You, however, need to set boundaries
about what you are and are not okay with.

Step 1 – Set boundaries:

Setting boundaries starts with sitting down and figuring out what you are or are not comfortable
with. And as a reminder: it’s about what YOU are and are not comfortable with – not the rest of
your family. It isn’t your responsibility to figure out the rest of the family’s needs. Think about
what you want to set. Do you want to set the boundary to have a sober Christmas dinner? Is the
boundary that you don’t want certain family members to drink because every year they overdo
it? Be specific and concise about your boundaries.

Step 2 – Create accountability measures:

Boundaries are meaningless if there aren’t any accountability measures in place to enforce
them. For example, if your boundary is that you want a sober Christmas dinner, then the
accountability needs to be that you’ll ask the family members to use a breathalyzer if they
appear intoxicated when they arrive. While it sounds extreme, remember that the boundaries
and how you enforce them are about you and what you’re comfortable with.

Step 3 – Communicate these expectations with your family:

Be sure to communicate your boundaries and accountability measures in advance of the holiday
event. Waiting until the last minute can create unnecessary drama. Be straightforward, clear
and concise. Maintain a collected, unemotional tone, and avoid any sort of punishing, shaming,
or degrading tone. And most importantly: don’t worry about getting other people upset or mad.

Resentment comes from not taking care of yourself and instead, feeling as if you need to do
crisis management and take care of everyone else.

Let’s face it: if you’re having this conversation for the first time with the addict in your family, it
will likely feel uncomfortable. A great way to start is by reading Chronic Hope: Families &
, which maps out of a step-by-step plan for setting boundaries and accountability.

At The Chronic Hope Institute, we’ve helped thousands of families create a concrete plan for
navigating the holidays.

Kevin Petersen MA, LMFT, Founder of The Chronic Hope Institute.

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