Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Welcome to my blog on 'Coping With The Holidays', where I will be uploading a new blog weekly to help guide people through the holidays and how to have a HEALTHY holiday season. This series will last until 2021.
Hi to who ever is reading this article and welcome to 'Coping With The Holidays'! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and hopefully you will gain some insight on how to have a healthy holiday season this year!
To put it lightly (very lightly), 2020 has been a runaway roller coaster of stress, anxiety, fear, and everything else in between (I mean killer bees, really???). This year was designed to test EVERYONE and had everyone scrambling for the eject button. Maybe you have found a 'new normal' (I hate that term) or are still taking things second by second. Either way, the holiday season has leapt upon us like a thief in the night. Inescapable, and shining a light into all the dark crevices of our families struggles.
First and foremost, I want to state from the very beginning that family is not made, created or sustained by blood or biology. We are allowed to CHOOSE our families. If your family is/has become toxic or abusive, you ARE ALLOWED TO GET OUT.
I know, I know. "But if I cut them off doesn't that make me the bad guy?!" The answer, simple or not, is NO. Toxic and abusive families thrive on the old belief that one must never stray from or relinquish family. This old belief holds people trapped and prisoner to abuse.
Once a person realizes that their family of origin is toxic or abusive, and attempts to hold boundaries, the family will often revolt. Revolt as in making you the bad guy, gaslighting you until you don't know what's reality anymore, and often resulting in boundaries being broken and you apologizing for making THEM upset (WHAT??!).
FEAR NOT! 1) You are not alone, 2) you ARE NOT the bad guy, 3) there is NOTHING wrong with putting yourself first and removing people from your life who do not serve you well. Often putting oneself first is a foreign and taboo topic but, here today, I want you to take that back and regain YOUR power over YOUR life.
Below, I will list a few tips and tricks of first, how to set boundaries and second, how to remove toxic family from your life if needed. Now lets get started...
1) Identify how your boundaries have been violated in the past, by who and how often. An easy trick to help with this is to 'float back' and allow yourself to remember events and interactions with family in the past that left your feeling angry, frustrated, taken advantage of, sad, etc.
2) Once you identify the boundaries that have been violated, identify how you would like to enforce those boundaries. Often, statements such as: I have noticed I feel (insert emotion here) when you (insert boundary crossing here), I would appreciate it if you didn't do that anymore.
3) Family will try their hardest to cross the boundaries and break them because you are requiring them to change their behavior (something toxic people HATE to do). Do not let them! Continue to enforce, repeating yourself as needed, and leaving the room if they refuse to respect your boundaries.
4) Recognize that some people don't want to change and that is no reflection on you or your worth. It is all a reflection on them and unresolved issues they have within them (also not your responsibility to fix!)
Releasing toxic people from your life:
1) If you have found yourself here, I'm sorry your family could not respect your new healthy boundaries, but damn am I proud of you for putting yourself first!
2) Once you realize your family won't respect your boundaries, you now are left with the decision to release them from your life. Now, you get to decide how this will look. Will you only see them on specific terms and only for a short period of time? Or have your decided that removing them all together is what is best? Either way, this is your decision and yours alone.
3) If you take the road of limiting contact, set up specific and I mean REALLY specific guidelines and boundaries of these interactions. Ex: Thanksgiving you will go to your family's house for the day, eat, not engage in any toxic behaviors or communication, leave after (or leave if they refuse to respect your boundaries).
4) If you take the road of removing family all together, you get to make the choice on how this information will be communicated. This is up to you and, since you have total control of your life, you decide how much interaction this will allow. Maybe the family is so toxic or abusive, no communication and getting the hell out of there is the choice. Maybe, you write a well worded email, text or letter. Or you call them or sit them down. There are many choices, but it is up to you on how you choose to move forward.
5) The last thing to consider is, DO NOT LET THEM GASLIGHT YOU AND MAKE YOU FEEL BAD FOR LOVING AND TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF.
You are powerful, wonderful and deserve to have loving people surround you during the holidays and long after. So if you take anything from this article, please take the message that you are loved and deserving of love.
Take care and I'll chat with you next week.
Courtney Johnson, MA, LPC
OK lets get started. Last week we talked about how to release toxic people from our lives, and hopefully that left you motivated and empowered to make some changes in your life.
This week I want to talk about #Holidaytrauma.
The holiday's can SUCK for a myriad of reasons.
Is your family toxic? (See above)
Do the holiday's remind you of a traumatic time in your life?
Does the idea of 'giving thanks' or 'decking the halls' result in full body recoil?? Chances are you have holiday trauma.
#Holidaytrauma is any negative holiday experience you had that resulted in a negative view of the holiday season (or a singular holiday).
How to identify #Holidaytrauma :
You can't remember the last time you had an enjoyable holiday that didn't end in arguments, fights or all out destruction
The thought of visiting family over the holiday's brings tremendous amount of stress
You fantasize about secretly slipping away on a vacation to the beach or in the mountains, completely ghosting your family
You do not like to decorate for the holiday's, even getting annoyed by all the decorations in stores
You JUST DON'T GET IT
You would rather pretend it is just another day
These are just a few responses to #Holidaytrauma that people experience. So I'm sure you're wondering, 'Courtney how does this help me? What do I do about my holiday trauma?!' Well, I'm going to give you a little insight on how to manage and cope with #Holidaytrauma below:
Holiday trauma is a natural response to negative experiences, and does not need to have shame or guilt attached!
Forge a new path on how to celebrate the holiday's (I mean you are still most likely getting the time off)
Set boundaries with friends and family that you do not wish to celebrate the holiday's in the traditional sense
If you are wanting to work through your trauma and one day actually ENJOY the holiday's
Identify the root of the trauma (where did it start)
Forgive those that you can (forgiveness is for yourself, not others)
Release the responsibility of holding onto the anger, hurt, etc
Understand you have the power to break generational curses by just being better (if you wish to break your generational curse/trauma, don't worry this is how you know you are being better)
Lastly, embrace the fact that tradition is a social construct and you have NO OBLIGATION to conform
I hope this has helped you feel seen and understood. The holiday's are different for everyone, and there is not one 'right' way to celebrate. Go out and live your life the way you want to, not the way society tells us we SHOULD.
Thank you for reading. Take care and we will chat again next week!
Courtney Johnson, MA, LPC
Politics and the Holiday's
Alright, so you're probably thinking "Politics and the Holiday's? You're a day late and a dollar short; I could have used this information yesterday!" Well, you're probably right, however there are still a few holiday's left this year. And Thanksgiving probably gave you a little insight into how much you need this information to survive another family gathering (dinner, zoom call, whatever).
No matter who you are, you probably have politics on the brain. I mean the 2020 election was a sh*t show (There really is no other way to describe it , right?). And if you are like MANY people in the US, you and your family (blood and/or chosen) don't see eye to eye on politics. So, how do you navigate political talk with your family without it ending in a screaming match??
SIMPLE! DON'T TALK ABOUT POLITICS!
I said simple NOT easy. Shutting down conversations without hurting others feelings or making them feel dismissed is not easy. Often people can't find the words to set boundaries with others and end up being trampled all over. Or you set boundaries in a super harsh way that results in you having to apologize. Sound familiar? Well, then this post is for you.
Setting verbal boundaries guide:
Identify what your non negotiable's are and set verbal boundaries early IF YOU CAN.
Examples of verbal boundaries:
I love you and feel uncomfortable talking about politics.
Let's talk about something else that we both can agree on.
I am not interested in getting into an argument over politics; we both are very passionate so let's talk about something else.
Remember when I said I didn't want to talk about politics? I really meant that, please respect my boundary.
I really care about out relationship and don't want to ruin our time together, so lets not talk about this.
REMEMBER boundaries only work if you hold strong to them, so continue to enforce your boundaries over and over again if needed.
If you feel others are continuing to violate your boundaries, you are ALLOWED TO LEAVE. Get up and get out of the room, house, zoom call, etc.
Boundaries are difficult for the giver and receiver but, that does not mean you need/should/ought to shut down your emotions to make others feel better.
Hopefully this information helps. Remember that boundaries may be hard and uncomfortable but, they are VITAL to healthy relationships. Keep holding your loved ones to healthy boundaries; both you and them will thank you for it later. I PROMISE.
If you feel like you need some extra support in learning and setting boundaries, reach out to get started working with me in therapy. The above is only a snippet of information I have on boundary setting!
Now go and have some fun! We'll talk again next week.
Courtney Johnson, MA, LPC
COVID And The Holiday's
Hello friends! Welcome back to 'Coping With The Holiday's'.
Today I want to talk about COVID And The Holiday's...
COVID and the holiday's?! What hasn't COVID touched and ruined this year??! UGH!
BELIEVE ME I KNOW. This year has been rough in so many ways. Now that the holiday's are upon us and cases are surging, families (biological and chosen) will most likely be separated this holiday season. I am one of those families and not being able to see my family- who are scattered throughout the US- is DEVASTATING. Whether you are separated from your family or able to be with them, COVID still has us all in heightened anxiety.
Our bandwith (the ability to withstand ongoing stress) is SHORT and if you find yourself emotional, irritable, shutting down, fatigued, stressed, etc your brain and body are RESPONDING to 10 months of continued stress. Our bodies and minds are not built to withstand ongoing stress. Our fight-flight responses were meant to be SHORT. This is because the amount of stress hormones- adrenaline and noradrenaline- released in fight and flight response take a MASSIVE toll on the body when in a prolonged state.
So what do you do when you have uncontrollable continued stress without an expected end date?
Control what you can
Narrow your focus
Control what you can:
Anxiety will run rampant in your mind and body if left unchecked. When you are presented with an uncontrollable anxiety, focus on what you can control about your life. I.e- setting a routine, set up safe in-person visits or zoom calls to feel connected, make a plan for activities to feel safe, and remember that the world's struggles are not on you to fix so leave it to those who can.
Narrow your focus:
Are you constantly checking the media and news for COVID updates? Are you worrying yourself with surging cases or how EVERYTHING this year has been traumatic? Narrow your focus to yourself and those directly in your life. As above, the world's struggles are not your own. You can feel empathy and sympathy for others, however this cannot control you and overwhelm your system.
I know...I know. You hear this ALL THE TIME. But self care is ESSENTIAL for mind and body health. This doesn't have to look the same as the typical cookie cutter techniques you've heard in the past.
Try some of these suggestions below:
Yell. Scream. This physical and visceral response allows the body to release stress that has been stored up.
Punch something (NOT SOMEONE). Again, this physical action allows the body to shed excess stress that the mind has forced the body to store.
Talk to yourself. I realize this sounds strange, but talking through things to yourself (OUT LOUD) allows you to release emotional energy in-the-moment.
De-clutter. Stress and depression often leaves little energy or motivation to tidy up around the house/apartment; your external world is a direct reflection of your internal world. De-cluttering allows the brain and body to relax in your space and can often trick the mind into feeling better.
Self date night. That's right, you heard me. Take your self on a date AT LEAST 2x/month. This can look like cooking (or ordering in) a great meal and actually eating AT A TABLE. (No more microwaveable meals in front of the tv) You can give yourself a spa night, an excuse to read a great book, take yourself on a walk, light some candles and watch your favorite movie. Or you turn out the lights, turn on the disco ball (I really hope at least someone reading this has one of these things) or whatever fun lighting, turn on the music and dance like no one is watching.
COVID is here, and not sure when it's going away. If you're like me, and really the rest of the world, you are stressed and the holiday's aren't helping. Hopefully some of the above suggestions will help release some of the stress and tension you are holding onto.
Remember, this WILL EVENTUALLY END. As all things do. So we have to make sure we are taking care of ourselves now to enjoy life after.
Stay well and we will talk again next week!
Courtney Johnson, MA, LPC