Halloween has ended, and the holiday season is upon us. We are entering the time of turkey dinners, festive lights, hot chocolate, and family guilt trips – are you ready?
For adults from narcissistic or emotionally immature families, the holidays can be a difficult time of year. November is filled with talk of gratitude, appreciating our lives, and coming together with family, all of which can be hard for those whose family of origin is toxic or abusive. For those who celebrate, December brings nearly a full month of anticipating Christmas. After the big day, there are a few days of post-Christmas blues and catching your breath before bidding farewell to the current year and ringing in the new. Looking ahead with hope can feel like a bitter joke when you know the people who cause you the most pain are unlikely to really change at this or any other time of year.
While you can’t directly change other people’s behavior, the approaching holidays are a good time to review your boundaries. It is also a good time to step up your self-compassion practice.
What self-compassion practice, you ask?
Oh, the one you ideally incorporate into your daily life – and may never have actually been able to develop. Well, here’s the good news: Today is a great day to begin a self-compassion practice. I will help you get started, with 5 questions to help you find the places to offer yourself grace and kindness.
What parts of me are looking forward to the holiday season?
Inside all of us are parts that view life through the eyes of a child. Many children are excited about the prospect of glittering snowflakes, pie a la mode, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and sending holiday wishes to Santa. Older kids who no longer believe in Santa may still look forward to hanging holiday decorations, visiting cousins and grandparents they don’t see very often, and the breathless anticipation of seeing what lies beneath that pretty wrapping paper. The holidays are an exciting time for most children.
That excitement and anticipation make it extra painful for children whose holidays are marked by disappointment, cruelty, or indifference to their feelings. If you were that child, you may feel foolish for getting excited about Christmas cookies and Thanksgiving turkey. You may even become angry with yourself for thinking maybe this year things will be pleasant. Here are some parts of you that need Self-compassion.
Mantra of Self-compassion: I offer compassion to the parts of me that still hope for a happy holiday season, even though they’ve been disappointed many times.
What parts of me fear or dread the holiday season?
Maybe you were the child who came to hate the holidays because someone always got drunk and one year your mom threw your presents in the fire to “teach you a lesson.” Perhaps the supposedly happiest time of the year is actually one of great pain and anger. Or, maybe attending family events as an adult has become an exercise in gritting your teeth. You’ve become an expert at ignoring the jabs about your job, your weight, and your overall life choices, but it still stings.
Society has many messages about the holidays are supposed to look and feel. That does not ring true for everyone. When the holidays are a time of stress, depression, anxiety, or reliving traumatic experiences, there is little reason for joyful anticipation. If you are among those who dread the coming festivities, guess what: Here are some parts that need Self-compassion.
Mantra of Self-compassion: I offer compassion to the parts of me that feel pain at this time of year. I will not try to make myself feel something that it not truthful for me.
How is my self-talk about holiday feelings?
To get a little meta, how do you feel about your feelings? Can you accept and validate your feelings, or do you try to convince yourself to feel differently? Second-guessing or disapproving of your feelings is a common side effect of growing up in an emotionally immature family. The rules about which feelings are acceptable at what time and by which person are rigid and nonsensical. Whether or not these rules were ever directly spoken, you likely have an internal system of evaluating which feelings are acceptable to express and which must be hidden away.
Feeling an emotion that is not sanctioned by those closest to you can trigger feelings of guilt and shame. You may feel pressure from family, friends, and the flood of holiday commercials and movies to “forgive and forget,” move on from the past, or to make like Elsa and let it go. How do you talk to yourself about any lingering pain, grief, anger, or resentment? Are you gentle with yourself, or do you try to brute force your way through difficult feelings? Do you feel badly for having feelings? Here are some parts that need Self-compassion.
Mantra: I offer compassion to the parts of me that feel guilty, shameful, or stuck. It is okay for me to feel the way I feel.
Would I talk to a child in this way?
If the mantra above was especially difficult, you may have some self-critical parts that have a hard time showing kindness to yourself. Oftentimes, those inner critics are just mirroring the way you were treated at earlier stages in your life. Were you teased, belittled, mocked, or given the silent treatment for having emotional responses? Were you told to “grow up and get over it,” or expected to always be the bigger person? Having your feelings invalidated over and over can leave you feeling raw inside. Don’t rub salt into your sore spots by doing it to yourself.
If you struggle to act kindly toward yourself, imagine that you are talking to a young child instead. How would you respond to a little girl or boy who came to you in tears over a mean comment, or feeling confused by a backhanded “compliment?” Would you scold him or her and send them away? Or would you offer understanding and comfort? Try to talk to yourself the way you would to a young child who comes to you for emotional support. You might even look at a picture of yourself at a young age as you practice offering Self-compassion to your hurting and self-critical parts.
Mantra: I offer myself compassion for having painful feelings. I offer my self-critical parts compassion for simply mirroring what they learned from others. My parts and I are doing the best we can.
What do I need to make this season the best it can be for myself?
Many adult children of toxic home environments have a hard time asking for help or support. They believe they should always be strong. They conflate asking for help or expressing a need with being selfish.
PSA: Having needs is not selfish.
Double PSA: IT IS OK TO ASK FOR HELP.
You may not have been given much room to express your needs in the past. And in certain relationships, there will never be enough room for your needs. But that is not true in all relationships.
Focus your time and energy on the relationships that make you feel loved, cared for, and valued. Spend time with those who make you feel appreciated and welcomed. Give yourself permission to limit your availability to those who don’t treat you with respect and dignity. Allow yourself to say no to further abuse, and yes to taking care of yourself.
If that means you skip Christmas brunch and eat waffles in bed, dust off your waffle iron and stock up on syrup and whipped cream. If it means asking a close friend to attend family events with you instead of going alone, ask them to be your plus one. And if it means choosing not to celebrate, give yourself the ok to spend a quiet day doing whatever makes you feel fulfilled and refreshed. There are parts of you that need compassion, and you are the perfect person to give that to yourself.
Mantra: I offer compassion to the parts of me that have a hard time asking for what I need. I give myself permission to create the loving and supportive environment that I need to heal, grow, and thrive.