Q&A:Holidays & Family Don’t Mix in My Life
Dear Jennifer: With each holiday season I find it harder and harder to do what is expected of me because ‘it’s family’ and all of the obligations that go along with our family connections. Yet my protests are silent because of the guilt I feel when I say ‘no’ to dinners I don’t want to attend and gatherings with people I don’t want to talk to or be with. Others think I’m unreasonable or heartless but I feel no connection to these people and have even let go of most of the ties to my family in the past few years. Still, it’s awkward and as I prepare for another cross country trip to visit my in-laws, I wonder why I can be a kind, generous and loving person with so many others but when it comes to my ‘family’, it is so hard for me to find more compassion and tolerance.
Jennifer’s Answer: I think the answer to your question lies in the way you used words such as responsibility, obligations, judgment, discomfort and other words that show how you feel obligated to behave according to others’ expectations and have no control over the matter. You also believe that these people don’t like you either, and feel that their behavior is hypocritical. Would you prefer to spend your holidays with strangers or friends, meaning people who you think like you and want to spend time with you, rather than those who have a biological link that entitles them to take up your time and energy? Can you make your own choices about this and not feel guilty?
That may sound harsh but it reflects the challenges you see inherent in this issue which can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be. Are you willing to say ‘no’ to the connections you truly do not want to engage with and not feel guilty about your choice? I suspect that you are also assuming a good deal of the response you are receiving because you do not connect well with these people. But there is a middle place between ‘they love me’ and ‘they hate me’ and that can be neutral, they don’t know where to put you or how to feel about you so they feel nothing. And that is awkward too.
I think your awkwardness over the holidays and your desire to do make your own choices has created this imbalance in your life, where you take action based on what you see are expectations and obligations based on biological connections. This is probably the continuation of a long period where you have not been asked or consulted about your opinion, needs or wishes by family. And even though you are older now, you still feel like you can’t do what you want to do around them. Another way of doing this is to decide, long before the holidays, what you want to do and let your family know what your plans will be. Then they can make their plans around yours. Are you OK with being excluded from their plans?
I think you have a difficult time with family, whether it is close or extended, because they don’t understand or connect with you, and they probably never have. You always feel excluded and isolated in these gatherings and you don’t like that. You may also not like it that they don’t seem to make any effort towards accommodating you or noticing that you do not feel welcome. Try taking a neutral stance with them, which is the energy of unconditional love. People who do not act like they ‘love’ you do not ‘hate’ you, there is middle ground and that is where you need to be if you are going to be able to successfully navigate the holidays without either completely isolating yourself or saying ‘yes’ to everything and being angry with yourself in the process. And see them as they are, trying their best and often what you perceive as dislike can be confusion. It’s the season to practice compassion, kindness, and acceptance, so do that for yourself and for them and choose to do what serves you, without serving it with a side of guilt.
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