Holidays are tricky. They can be exciting times, filled with a frenetic break from the norm. But with a mounting gift list to buy and mounds of food to make, it can be exhausting too. On the other hand, it can also be a time where we get together with the people we know, maybe a little more than we’d like to. This can be stressful to say the least. But for some of us, this is an unavoidable reality. So the question is, what happens when we change, but are still connected to our unchanging pasts. Usually, we end up lonely around the holidays.
I’ll be talking a little about my situation. How I got to where I am and what I’ve done to change the ways I relate to my past. Especially in the form of those I’m connected to, from my past. Whatever your case is, just know you’re not alone. The holidays can be difficult. But maybe we can find some healthy people to rely on to get us through. Let’s start by taking a look at how I got to where I am.
Lonely Reminders of the Unchanged Past
I’ve made some fairly drastic changes in your lifestyle. I’ve also worked diligently on keeping my mental health and well-being a priority as well. While my family… not so much. So how do we be present with the sometimes excruciating experience of being with the unchanged reminders of our past? While also keeping ourselves safe and cared for in the present without feeling lonely? It takes skill, but it can be done without revisiting some old ghosts.
Boundaries are Important
The key is to maintain healthy boundaries between where you end and those whom you’re connecting with begin. This isn’t always easy. Especially if you haven’t had healthy boundaries modeled for you in the past. I wasn’t even sure what a boundary was. In my family it was seen as being disloyal to be a separate emotional self from those around me. It was taken personally. As though they were being rejected in some way if someone didn’t take on what they were experiencing.
In case you are or were in my situation, let me tell you that this is unhealthy. First, it’s important to set some boundaries for yourself. Another way to view it is, by setting up some rules for how you will and will not accept being treated. What are the things that people do or say that make you feel poorly about yourself. As though you’re not adding up in some way. Or maybe feel ashamed about who you are if you’re not meeting someone else’s impossible standard. These are the places you’ll want to take a look at while establishing your boundaries.
Caring for Yourself While Around Those With Unhealthy Boundaries
It’s important to know and understand this aspect of your relationships. Because the longer you’re exposed to these poor boundaries, the more likely you are to take them on as your own. But also while you’re enduring these manipulations of feelings, you’re also setting the standard for how you will tolerate being treated. Maybe why we allow this breach of boundaries is because we fear feeling lonely and isolated for wanting to go against the family’s unspoken rules.
It’s critical to understand how you’re feeling while you’re in the midst of what may be an emotionally challenging environment. Strong opinions may be tossed around or mean spirited gossip may be aimed towards anyone who is seen as other. These are only a few examples of unhealthy boundaries and bonding. So in order to know how you are feeling in the middle of what could be a confusing space, it’s important to take some time to check in with your feelings.
Taking Space to Not Feel Lonely
Don’t be afraid to take space. Go for a short walk if you are some place that is scenic. Or maybe you have a favorite coffee shop nearby where you can grab a calming cup of herbal tea. Even if it’s just a corner out of the flow of people gathering around you. Take some time and space to see how you’re feeling.
Also, don’t be afraid to take this space as your own. If someone asks to come, or finds you while you’re checking in on your own, don’t hesitate to say you’d rather be alone. This is your time, and you will need some quiet to check in with yourself. You may feel a bit lonely at first. Especially if you’re just learning how to set boundaries. But the feeling of being lonely will fade as you learn to support and rely on yourself.
How to Check in With Yourself
Once you’re alone, you can start to do the work of getting to the core of how you’re dealing with and feeling about your current situation. For myself, I find a helpful place to start is by being kind to myself. It helps to allow for the emotions that are bound up for fear of being surrounded by what feels like an unsafe place to be, come to the surface and feel heard. If you’re used to an environment that is ripe with aggression, this may take some practice.
Some of the feelings you may be feeling are, lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, angry… It’s important to understand what you’re feeling in the moment, so you can respond to it with kindness. I use Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. method for checking in with my emotions. It’s simple and effective.
I didn’t have a lot of kindness modeled for me in my youth, towards myself or others. So it took a lot of practice and getting use to before it took hold. And on top of that, I was raised to believe that kindness was not only a feminine trait, but also a sign of weakness in Men. Not for the human trait that it is. So understanding the beliefs we were raised with, will also help with uncovering our emotional selves.
Being With Your Vulnerability
Because this is vulnerable work. Sitting with our emotions and understanding how we’re feeling about them. Or towards our situations and ourselves. If all that was modeled for us was a sense of judgement and criticism, then vulnerability can be a scary and raw feeling. One we will most likely want to numb out or avoid at all costs.
I know I did for a long time. And I learned how from my family. It’s also equally as important to know that it’s not your fault. It’s not your family’s fault either. But we can only focus on ourselves and knowing that these feelings are difficult in the first place, something we instinctively want to avoid, helps a great deal to relieve some of the guilt we may be feeling in how we’ve avoided them in past and our aversion to them in the present.
Knowing How and When to Put Yourself First
This whole process is something that takes a lot of patients and courage. Standing up to your family is no easy task. But if they are locked in unhealthy patterns, it is paramount that you put yourself first and take care of your emotional health and mental space. And sometimes this can feel selfish and be a lonely place.
Sometimes I get hung up on is wanting to help, change or “save” my family from the unhealthy habits I see them wrestling with. The ones I had or still am dealing with. Because I’m seeing them from a new perspective and I want to come to their rescue. But you can’t make someone want to change. That’s important lesson to understand. Especially if you’ve grown up having your emotions manipulated by caretakers as I had. Knowing that we are solely responsible for ourselves is important to helping us create a healthy boundary between our emotional selves and those around us.
Also Knowing When to Keep the Door Open
It’s equally as important to remember that just like you, everybody is capable of making healthy choices. I used to write people off. As though they were disposable if they crossed me. This black and white way of thinking left me with a lot of burnt bridges. And hurt feelings as well, with few friends to call on for support. But it was also a way of keeping myself safe from potential sources of harm. Knowing we can keep ourselves safe while in relationship is an important step. Not only towards building healthy and lasting relationships but also helping those whom maybe want healthy relationships.
That being said, leaving the door to our vulnerable selves wide open can lead to hurt feelings or feeling taken advantage of. So there’s a balance to strike. Somewhere between not writing people off but also not letting them continue to practice old and unhealthy patterns of being in relationship. This is a place I explore with the help of my therapist. And something I definitely suggest seeking professional support and guidance for if you’re in this position. These are not places I wanted to visit at all, but to go alone and with no tools just seemed overwhelming.
Have a Plan
And finally, have a plan for what you will do if you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Knowing that you have a plan, even if it’s just to take a walk and get away for a bit, helps to give you a sense of agency. Like no matter what happens, you are in charge of keeping yourself safe. You can rely on and trust yourself to take care of you. Maybe in the ways you never were before.
I hope this helps in some way. The holidays can be tough. And having as many resources as possible will help to ease some of the tension they can bring. Be safe, be well and happy holidays. Peace : ]