The Holidays Provide An Opportunity To Evaluate Whether Your Relationship With Family Is Healthy (Or Not)
Holidays are a time of reflection on the past year–how we’ve grown, what we’ve done (or not done), what we want or want to stop, and who we are and want to be. Often being in therapy, and considering your life, your upbringing and your values can cause you to want to reevaluate your relationship with family. While you should be evaluating your relationships all year, this season is a particularly good time to reevaluate your family relationships.
Many of us in NYC live away from family or our busy lives take away from family even if they do live nearby. The holidays frequently bring us back “home,” or see our families visiting us. We face family more fully during the holidays in shared locations and with shared memories. This offers an opportunity, both internally and in therapy, to evaluate whether these relationships are healthy (e.g. relationships with curiosity, mutual respect of boundaries and needs, an understanding of a person as an individual, etc.) or unhealthy (e.g. relationships with scapegoating, narcissism, don’t see individuals as they grow, etc.) so you can decide who to be close with and how to do that closeness.
Relationships With Family Members Change As You Grow
As adults, our relationships with our families become more complex. We relate to our parents as adults as they and we age. Our grandparents’ place, once rulers in the family, shifts. Over time, these relationships also change, and we may need or want more. I often talk with patients about their evolving relationships with family. We are always growing, and we can forget this in family because the relationships are so long-term.
Because of this, consistent reevaluating of relationships is healthy. It’s like going to the gym and remembering that all our muscles need attention in different ways throughout our lives.
How Do You Reevaluate Your Relationship With Family?: Ask Yourself Questions
How can you reevaluate your relationships over the holidays? Check in with yourself (or with your therapist) before, during, or after a family event. For example, if you’re at a holiday dinner with your parents and brothers, be curious about how you feel in the conversation and how you’re building connection with the different family members. Is there space for you or just one family member in this conversation? Are you being heard?
Sometimes we hold on to relationships based on guilt, social connections, longevity, or a responsibility toward family. We don’t ask ourselves questions about our family relationships because we’re afraid of the answer. But, ask yourself: Who do I feel close to in the family and who feels closest to me? Is there a possibility for more closeness? Is so-and-so not safe for that, and is there some distance that is caring but with boundaries needed? How do I feel in this relationship with my brother, mother, father, etc.? What do I do after interactions with specific family members–am I angry with myself, depressed or sad? Do I feel warm, excited, and full of care during family gatherings? Do I feel loved and want to love this other person?
Depending on the relationship, the answers can sometimes be scary and jarring, but they are helpful. Because after we answer them, what do we do? We have a choice.
Yes, You Have A Choice In Who You Let Get Close–Even Family
While we can’t choose the family we’re born into or are placed as children, adulthood is full of choices, even with family. Sometimes we try to force closeness because of who they are to us as parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. But, we can’t force feelings because of a role.
It’s imperative that we choose daily, weekly, and seasonally who we are close to, how we interact with them, and who we choose who not to get close to, as well as the different ways that can look. Closeness is built and continually created, requiring us to choose who we spend time with, for how long, when we see them, what we do, and what we do if we don’t want to see them right now. Or if we need to not have a relationship with them at all.
If you are close, you feel seen, respected, and held emotionally by a person or people. When you aren’t, you can decide how to find new ways to navigate these relationships. How do you do that? Create boundaries. Decide what you can and cannot talk about, for example. You might be able to talk about shared interests, sports, or the family lake house, but the other things might have to be limited or off the table.
It’s also important to accept what people can or cannot be in the relationship. This is the crux of a lot of work within therapy. Maybe at one time, they could be parents, but now they don’t know how to do an adult parental relationship. Rather than expecting Mom or Dad to do what they can’t and be hurt, settle in the boundaries of what the relationship can be. And if a relationship is harmful, we can also choose to not be in the relationship, and move forward with other ones that are healthy.