HOLIDAY SEASON WELLNESS: FAMILY OF CHOICE VS. FAMILY OF ORIGIN
Many of us have lived under the conditioning that we are obligated to spend the holidays with our families of origin. As children, we may have had less of a choice as to how we spent our holidays. Now, as adults, we really do have a choice.
For some of us, the holiday season may be filled with the healthier type of stress — such as booking flights and last minute shopping chaos — though we really look forward to spending time being together with our family and sharing the joy and laughter of the holiday season.
For others, just the thought of spending this time with our family begins to stress us out, even before we actually see them! And our apprehension and anxieties aren’t for naught — so often, we do experience the pain and hurt we were avoiding when we are actually in their presence.
Recently, I spoke with a director for a center of treatment for women with eating disorders who reported around half of their clients would experience the same trauma and abuse during the holidays at the hands of their family of origin that played a pivotal role to their eating disorder in the first place.
The crazy part to consider is this; Why in the world do we continue to choose the latter experience if we don’t have to?
Why would we spend our precious vacation time (which is very limited if you live in the U.S.) with people and in situations which create even more stress and turmoil for us?
Can most of us agree that our time away from work would ideally be a time where we can rest, enjoy leisure activities, eat good food, and share more quality time with the people we love and feel good and uplifted to be around?
I want to share a few of my own personal experiences in this area as I went from family of origin to family of choice, as I feel it can illustrate my point and hopefully encourage others who may experience similar challenges as myself to speak up and choose what’s best for them.
For many years growing up, I loved spending time with my family of origin for the holidays. I grew up in California, though the remainder of most my family lived in New York, which is where we would often spend Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
We shared Thanksgiving locally with some of our more extended family, and had a second cousin who would host and have everyone would meet at her house.
For both holiday’s, there was tons of laughter, good memories, gifts, love, and great food shared. One of the things I am still most grateful for my family was how they really did make an effort to make the holidays a special time where we could all celebrate and be together.
However, over the years, and as I became an adult, many things changed.
Nearly all of my family in California moved away, and Thanksgiving was no longer spent with them.
My aunt and uncle got a nasty divorce after 40 years of marriage, and I was “forbidden” to see him during the holidays when I was back east. My aunts literally spied on us and kicked me and my cousins out of the house one year for making plans to see my uncle.
Being able to see close friends I had made in college that lived in New York during a 2 week visit back east was usually met with a great deal of passive aggressive comments, guilt, and sometimes outright vocal “forbidding.” I began to see the amount of emotional hostage so many of us were being held in, and I didn’t like it one bit.
Major family secrets surfaced, and we weren’t able to talk about them.
As I became older and developed a greater awareness, I began to see the intense amount of shame, bullying, and guilt most of my family used to coerce us to spend time together and do what “they” thought was right.
And my immediate family, well, I don’t think I ever really enjoyed spending too much time with them. And please believe me when I tell you that all hell would break loose if I didn’t feel like spending the excessive amount of time they demanded I spend with them as an adult. I learned that truly, no amount of time, attention, and energy from me was ever good enough to them, they always wanted more and weren’t capable of appreciating what I could give them.
I realized as an adult just how much my needs and feelings weren’t validated, as was called many horrible names and made to feel selfish and unloving when I even attempted to share honestly with them.
As I see it, why in the world would you want to bully and shame someone into spending time with you? Pretty crazy, and obviously didn’t make me feel better about spending time with them!
Then one year, it hit me like a ton of bricks — I didn’t have to spend the holidays with my family of origin if I didn’t want to!
My sincere hope is that your family isn’t as intensely verbally and emotionally abusive as mine.
Because for me, I needed to actually stop communicating with them to break free.
I saw how their harsh criticisms, attacks, and shaming made previous decisions to do what felt best for me for a change almost impossible, as all the years of that type of verbal and emotional abuse would trigger such intense emotions of confusion, shame, and guilt for me that it kept me stuck.
Though it was scary, I made a decision to cut off certain members of my family of origin, at least for the time being. Having a support group of friends and people who shared similar challenges was of vital importance to help me move through this time.
And I’ll never forget, hearing from my sister that I was invited to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, and then looking within and asking myself honestly, “Who do I actually want to spend the holidays with this year?”
I ended up getting an offer to spend Thanksgiving with a close friend of mine and her family. I had a great time, and felt so much love and acceptance being at their house.
My friend even told me afterwards that her mom said I was more than welcome to come over again for Christmas and any other Thanksgiving in the future. I felt truly grateful, accepted, and happy to hear that.
I decided that I wanted to spend Christmas that year with my sister and her boyfriend’s family, which was also a lot of fun — a new and enjoyable experience for me.
It was that year, not too long ago, where I realized that I truly do have the freedom of choice of who I want to share and celebrate the holidays with, and how much more peace, wholeness, and enjoyment I experienced (and many others around me reported experiencing) when I decided to choose what felt best for me to do versus what I felt I “had” to do.