Tomorrow is Christmas Day. And there is something about the holiday season that seems to magnify the Emotional Neglect from your childhood.
I think it’s because you likely spend more time with your emotionally neglectful family of origin (your parents and siblings and extended family), because you are thrown into groups and parties, which may not be your comfort zone, and because you are surrounded by food and alcohol, which sets you up to get angry at yourself for not having more self-discipline.
In this article, I’ll remind you of some of my favorite tips to help you navigate the holidays with flying colors.
Tips To Make Your Family Time Enjoyable
- At your family gathering, make it a point to talk with someone about a problem in your life. Choose someone you wouldn’t normally share a problem with (make sure it’s someone who can be trusted with the information). This communicates to yourself and others that it’s OK to talk about negative or difficult things in your family.
- Do you have a sister-in-law who seems sad lately? A nephew who may be struggling in college? A cousin who recently separated from his wife? Make it a point to connect with him or her in a real way. “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing? And I mean for real,” accompanied by eye-contact and true listening, can go a long way. Making a meaningful connection with another person will not only brighten your day, it will also shift your family dynamic in a small but powerful way.
- Pay attention to your own feelings while at your family gathering. Try to identify three different emotions that you have while you are there. This will keep you more aware of yourself. On top of that, you will be honoring your own feelings, which directly counteracts the message of Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Tips To Overcome Your Discomfort at Holiday Parties
- Come to grips with the true nature of your discomfort. The people are not the problem. It’s a feeling inside of you that’s the problem. That feeling of not belonging makes you believe you don’t belong. But you do.
- Put words to your uncomfortable feeling. Is it alone, sad, scared, anxious, overwhelmed, apart, lost or confused, for example? Naming a feeling instantly reduces its power.
- Talk with a trusted person about the feeling and how it makes you want to avoid group events. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a friend or family member, talk with a therapist about it. Sharing your feeling with another person will even further reduce its power over you.
- Before you go to the group event, set an amount of time you will be there. Remind yourself that you have to manage your feeling while you are there. At the party, talk back to the feeling when you feel it:
You’re a good person and you belong here.
These people are fine. They’re not the problem.
It doesn’t matter what other people think.
It’s just a feeling. It’s old, and you don’t need it anymore.
You’re a person, on equal footing with everyone else here. And you matter.
Tips To Stay Out of the Self-Discipline Trap
- Remind yourself that your problems with self-discipline are not your fault. These struggles are common among those who grew up with CEN. Perhaps you didn’t receive enough structure or discipline in some vital areas as a child, so you weren’t able to internalize the ability to discipline yourself. Perhaps you’re struggling to fill that empty feeling caused by CEN, and it’s causing you to over-indulge on some unhealthy things.
- Be mindful when you are around copious offerings of food and drink, or opportunities to overspend. Being unaware of yourself is a prime cause of over-indulging. Take note of hazardous situations like a table full of food, an open bar or a big sale, for example; and be mindful of everything you put in your mouth and every dollar you spend. This will help you prevent mistakes.
- Be compassionate with yourself. All your life you’ve been blaming yourself for your problem with self-discipline, and that only intensifies the cycle. “You did it again. You ate too much (or drank or spent too much).” “You are weak,” the voice says. Talk back to that voice, and say, “I am trying,” “I am human,” “I will keep working on this, and that is all I can ask of myself.”
No matter what your own personal challenges are this holiday season, please know that you are not alone. Many others are struggling too. Your struggles are real. They are important, and they matter because you matter.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how it affects your relationships and how to heal it to improve your relationships with the most important people in your life, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.
To find out if you have CEN, Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.