The holiday season is now behind you. So is the hustle, bustle and stress related to the cooking, cleaning, organizing and choreographing of all the activities that occur during this time of year. There is, however, one thing that hasn’t gone away.
It’s the hurts, disappointments, upsets, stress and resentments that many of you experienced while interacting with your parents, siblings, extended family members and even friends during this supposedly joyous time of year.
Let me add, however, that these feelings aren’t unique to just the holidays. They’re potentially accessible all 365 days of the year. But most of the time, your interactions are shorter, tempered by fewer demands and include far fewer expectations that you need to be happy, close and loving. Come to think of it, however, that last statement may not be entirely true. The same emotions and reactions can make themselves evident during other occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries and wedding celebrations. Perhaps it’s more because Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Year all occur during a relatively brief period of time and, therefore, contribute to exaggerated feelings of stress and pressure. But the stress I’m primarily concerned about isn’t associated with physical demands or schedules. It’s the guilt, the sense of responsibility, and feelings of obligation to conform, to placate others, and to behave in ways which don’t necessarily coincide with your own desires or wishes. It’s the anxiety you consciously or unconsciously experience, internally that contributes to emotional conflicts of a far greater degree than normal. All of which can be compounded when new individuals are introduced into the family as a consequence of marriage, divorce or even death. It alters the family dynamics and can exaggerate the demands and conflicts between the two of you, your parents, your siblings and his/her parents and siblings. For example, your mother always celebrated at noon on Thanksgiving. Lo and behold, his or her mother wants to celebrate at the same time. Where do you go? Who do you choose? Who do you offend? How do you reconcile these issues without hurting the feelings of others, or resenting others for placing you in a situation where you feel forced to act politically correct, or make the “right” decision, or cause you to hate yourself because of your inability to stand up for what you want, and behave on the basis of your own desires?
Even more, if standing up for yourself was a problem earlier in life, once you add a spouse to the equation, it escalates a thousand-fold. Just think about the potential for increased conflict that can arise between you and your spouse. It doesn’t matter whether you’re newlyweds or married for over twenty years,. These issues will occur and the longer you’ve been together, will only serve to exaggerate your resentments. The arguments can consist of whose parents or family you choose to favor, whose home you are going to visit first, or stay at the longest. And what about your feelings toward self when you consistently capitulate, or or your partner’s reactions regarding your unilateral decision to go to one home late or eat at the other house? All of which can contribute to their thoughts that, “You care for your mother more than me”, or a mother saying, “Now that you’ve married, I don’t matter”, or suggesting that, “Ever since you married, you’ve been a different person. It must be that your husband/wife is controlling your decisions now.” The answers are: one, you can’t take blame or credit for the reactions of others; two, you need to recognize that statements of these types are so common that comedians make a living off routines involving this material, so try not to give these remarks a great deal of credence: and, three, as I’ve said a thousand times before, you can only control yourself.
Having said all this, what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to work it out so that you don’t hurt anyone, don’t tread on anyone’s toes, don’t imply that someone is more important than another or more preferable, or react in such a way that demonstrates any hint of dissatisfaction, anger or resentment. There are several alternatives. Escape and book a cruise for only your immediate family, feign sickness and stay home or present a picture that suggests utter neutrality with regard to both sets of parents, lor argue about it. None of these are advisable. That being the case, be aware that whatever you decide to do, you can expect to meet with guilt trips that have been honed to a fine edge. “Mother’s sick”, “You don’t seem to care for us any longer”, “We don’t know how much time we have left and this may be that last opportunity you have to celebrate with the entire family”, or the classic guilt trip, “This may be grandma’s last Christmas. How can you not be there?” Let me assure you that if you go only because of that and she’s alive next year, you’ll hear the same thing over again. The only way you can win is if she dies after the event or holiday, but that’s a terrible thought, and a terrible way to have to win.
Essentially, I’m saying there will never be an end to the pressures and positions you’ll be placed in or later feel resentful about, until the day arrives when you decide, “I/we are not going to act solely out of guilt or obligation again. I/we won’t be pushed into doing things I/we don’t want to do, or guilted into it, because it’s “much more convenient for everyone else”, or because, “you know how good a mother I’ve been and I deserve this consideration.” Instead, What you need to come to believe and say to yourself is: “In the future, I/we will decide for ourselves where we’re going, when we’re going, and why we’re going. We will do this without anger, resentment or creating dishonest excuses.” You see, it is your decision to make, and whether you alternate where you go from year to year, celebrate at your own home and invite everyone over, or any number of other alternatives, you must make it clear that you’re not trying to hurt anyone, that you love them all, but you love yourself more.
To learn more about Dr. Reitman, read more of his articles, or to obtain copies for family or friends, please visit his website, dredreitman.com.