How Codependency Makes You Dread the Holidays

By Laura K. Connell.

They call December the most wonderful time of the year, but for those struggling with codependency it can be the most dreaded. If the approaching holidays create in you feelings of fear and anxiety, you’re not alone. 

When we grow up in a dysfunctional home we learn to cater to the needs and wants of others instead of ourselves. That means the holidays are a time of obligation, over giving, and fear that no matter what you do, it will never be enough.

Family gatherings for you are not times of joyful connection, but places where problems are not discussed, and emotions are not welcome. That leaves you feeling empty and invalidated and adds to the dread you feel at this time of year. 

You have trouble setting boundaries to protect yourself and this leaves you vulnerable to being hurt. You may come to expect this pain and even associate the holidays with danger.

Instead of thinking about what you want, you focus on the demands of others regardless of the toll it takes on your energy, time, and finances.

You may feel obligated to travel long distances to visit parents and if they are divorced, you do it twice. Rather than tuning in to how exhausted this makes you feel, you ignore your needs and push through to the detriment of your health and well-being.

You stay longer than you want to because you can’t imagine standing up to the retaliation you’d face if you said ‘no’. Consider how you can place boundaries around your time by limiting the number of hours you spend in the dysfunctional family home. 

How would it feel to arrive just before dinner and leave shortly after dessert? Or, if that sounds too radical, you could make it for the day, then go home or spend the night at a hotel.

Are you inclined to overspend during the holidays and go into the new year with your resources depleted? Do you spend too much on family members because you fear you will lose love if you don’t?

How about focusing on giving that love to yourself by setting boundaries around your finances. Give yourself a budget and stay within it, perhaps buying only for key people in your life.

And that feeling of hurt and frustration when people don’t recognize your efforts. How would it feel to stop expecting family members to behave any differently than they always have?

Because of the way you were raised, you have trouble expressing your needs and wants. You believe that what others think of you is of utmost importance and you might die if they’re not happy with you.

That’s because when you were a child, rejection or abandonment was a life and death situation. If your parent was unhappy with you, that could leave you in a vulnerable and dangerous spot.

But you’re an adult now and you have the right to say ‘no’ and the resources to take care of yourself if anyone doesn’t like it. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, and you can change your mind at any time.

That means if you’ve already accepted an invitation, you can still choose to stay home and preserve your energy instead! Tune into yourself and what you need instead of focusing on what everyone else needs.

This will feel strange at first and can start at the somatic level. What is your body asking for, be it rest, comfort, a deep breath, or something to eat?

It won’t happen overnight but as you practice prioritizing your own needs, you will begin to understand who you are. You will see yourself as a separate individual with needs and wants of your own rather than someone responsible for everyone else.

Laura K. Connell is a trauma-informed author & coach who helps her clients recover from the devastating impact of dysfunctional family trauma. Take the Dysfunctional Family Roles quiz here:

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