Holidays can be difficult when gatherings involve dysfunctional dynamics or loved ones who struggle with addiction. Thinking of these gatherings can bring up unfavorable memories wrought with chaos. We dread the thought of celebrating with our loved ones. And then again, the holidays can bring up tender memories, making us long to see and gather with our loved ones. However, for those who desire a peaceful life, navigating the holidays is tough.
Do we forgo the safe distance we have cultivated because of social expectations? After all, it is a special day. These special occasions don’t happen often.
Or do we ignore the holidays altogether and pretend they are not happening? For example, let’s say Father’s Day is too painful. Because of this, we don’t call, send a card, or spend time with our dad. We snap at others who ask about our Father’s Day plans. Or we find ourselves spewing painful memories onto unsuspecting acquaintances when they ask what we are doing for Father’s Day.
Or maybe, we freeze up, unsure of what action to take. We end up not making any plans. Then others make the schedule for us, and we end up obligated to attend events we never wanted to go to in the first place.
What are our options? Is there another way?
These mental gymnastics are so taxing. Without knowing the details of your situation, I’m familiar with the exhaustion that comes from trying to think of the best way to handle holidays. Often it feels like having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Do you go and expose yourself and possibly your other loved ones to the dysfunction, or do you not go and have to live with the guilt for not showing up? The solution isn’t cut and dry, and, unfortunaltely there is no handbook for the best way to handle this.
However, there are biblical principles we can apply when navigating the holidays with addicted or dysfunctional loved ones.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.(Romans 12:18, NIV, emphasis mine)
This verse illuminates the reality that it is not always possible to live peacefully, and it is not always in your control. Now, I know that’s frustrating, and it shouldn’t be that way. But some of the greatest boundary work you will do with addicted and dysfunctional loved ones is accepting this truth.
There are some things you can do to live at peace with addicted and dysfunctional loved ones, and other aspects will be outside of your control to change.
Again, without knowing the details of your situation, here are several dos & don’ts for navigating the holidays with addicted and dysfunctional loved ones.
Before we get started, I think this goes without saying. Please make these decisions prayerfully. Ask God for wisdom. The Bible says we can ask God for wisdom, and He gives it generously without finding fault (James 1:5) Then, seek Godly counsel from a gospel-centered friend, pastor, or counselor. And then listen to that counsel. These people know you and want what’s best for you. The Bible instructs us to listen to advice and accept counsel, so that we can be wise (Proverbs 19:20). Each of our situations are nuanced, and we will need God and the wise counsel of others to navigate these dysfunctional dynamics in a God-honoring way.
We can’t do this in our strength or without prayer.
If you need prayer prompts and space to journal and process these truths, you can grab my free 30-day devotional below.
COME UP WITH CREATIVE AND SAFE WAYS TO COMMUNICATE YOUR LOVE WITHOUT VIOLATING BOUNDARIES.
Maybe it is unsafe and unwise for you to be with your loved one. What could you do instead? Could you write a letter or send a card? Could you reach out to a few friends asking them to pray for you and your loved one with the holiday coming up? Your loved one may not know overtly that you showed your love in this way, but God is honored by this great act of love. And He is not expecting you to put yourself in a dangerous or unhealthy situation to love someone. But His Word does command us to do all we can to keep the peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
EXPECT THAT YOU MAY FEEL SAD AND OR EDGY, AND GIVE YOURSELF SPACE TO GRIEVE
As I mentioned before, the holidays trigger memories, and we experience lots of added stress from having to make hard decisions. You may cycle through a gamut of emotions that zap your energy and make you overly snappy or tearful around others. Expect and prepare for this. Have a conversation with those around you and prepare them too. Ask for extra prayer, patience, and grace. And give yourself space and time to feel all the feelings. Try journaling them in prayer to God. Each entry, in One Day at a Time: Wisdom, Hope, and Courage for those with Addicted Loved Ones, has lined pages that you can use to process and pray over your situation.
PREPARE A SHORT SCRIPT FOR WHAT YOU WILL SHARE WITH PEOPLE OUTSIDE YOUR INNER CIRCLE
Because your emotions may are heightened during this time, you might find yourself accidentally venting to anyone who asks about the holidays. This can complicate the normal amount of guilt you may be feeling for sticking to your boundaries, because these people may say unhelpful things because they do not know the details of your situation. Or they may not know what to say, so they say something trite and uncaring. Instead of accidentally unloading on strangers or oversharing with well-meaning people who don’t get it, prepare a short script. You can be as vague or brief as you need to be. Remember, these are not the people you go to for wise counsel.
- I appreciate you asking about the holidays, we don’t have big plans. What about you?
- I’m not up for discussing that, but thank you for asking.
- Thank you for asking, we are having a low-key celebration. How are you celebrating?
Don’t Do This
DO NOT DISREGARD BOUNDARIES BECAUSE OF A HOLIDAY OR SPECIAL OCCASION
The holidays are sentimental and highly emotional. We can often experience lapses in judgment because of this. Remember, if someone wants to be involved in your life they will adhere to the stipulations you have communicated. If they have not proven that they are willing to do this, a special occasion does not change that dynamic. Also, the holidays can be emotionally triggering for everyone, increasing the likelihood of an unpleasant encounter. Stick to your boundaries and observe the other person’s consistent actions before deciding to alter a boundary.
DO NOT PACK YOUR CALENDAR FULL OF SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS LEAVING NO ROOM FOR REST
For many of us who love someone in addiction or someone who is dysfunctional, we sometimes cope by keeping busy. If we can stay distracted enough we won’t think about our pain or the guilt of not getting together and celebrating. However, this is also unhealthy. Your heightened emotions make you vulnerable to either unloading or exploding on someone. Neither of which you intended to do, but your inner turmoil will bubble up, especially if you are overextended. Keep your calendar buffered with margins for rest.
DO NOT OVER EXPLAIN YOUR LOVED ONE’S ABSENCE OR YOUR LACK OF PARTICIPATION TO EVERYONE WHO ASKS
In her book, Try Softer, therapist Aundi Kolber explains that people who have experienced trauma have a window of tolerance. This means you can handle discussing a topic to a certain point before you become upset. You will notice you are getting dysregulated when talking about something if your pulse or thoughts start to race. Or you begin to feel overly anxious, hot/cold, or dizzy. These are signs that your body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated. Your brain is sending signals to your body that you are unsafe and you need to fight, flee, or fawn to remain safe. While this function is useful when you are in danger of getting run over by a car or chased by a wild animal, it is unhelpful in the hallways at church when another congregant asks you about the holiday. So remember that you can only emotionally tolerate so many of these conversations, and don’t feel the need to over-explain to anyone. Definitely not acquaintances. Watch for signals that you are approaching your window of tolerance, and try the scripts above to disengage from the topic.
Loving someone who struggles with addiction or who has dysfunctional patterns can complicate holidays. And while it certainly is not our responsibility to prevent chaotic gatherings, we can take measures to protect ourselves and maintain our boundaries. Use wisdom and prayer when making these decisions. Follow the biblical principle from Romans 12:18 and modify these do’s and don’ts to suit your situation so you can navigate the holidays with addicted and dysfunctional loved ones.
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