Throughout the year, families of varying sizes and backgrounds come together (most often around major holidays) to reminisce and reconnect. At this time of year, some are preparing for Passover celebrations, others for
Easter, and still others for what is simply meant to be a restorative and relaxing Spring break. But as tempting as it can be to envision family togetherness playing out like a Hallmark movie, the reality is often in stark contrast.
For starters, memories of past holiday gatherings can be triggering – perhaps mom and dad were fighting, a sibling was going through a messy divorce, a family member was struggling with an addiction, or a relative you’ve been close with is now ill and changed. These memories, now associated with holiday gatherings, can cause tremendous anxiety and unease.
And then there are personality differences and changes that only add to the complexities of family gatherings. Perhaps you or a sibling has done a significant amount of emotional work and has established a new set of boundaries that are important for others to respect and uphold. This can significantly change the family dynamics which will be an adjustment for all involved.
It’s no secret that the relationships we form with our family members, as well as learned emotional patterns, inform how we relate to others in our adult lives. Birth order, parental relationships, and sibling bonds and rivalries all play a major role in our emotional development. Ever heard the adage, “No one can hurt you like your family”? This underscores just how significant and foundational these connections are – for better AND for worse. Shared family history is unique and unlike any other source of connection. This is why family has the potential to produce the deepest feelings of love and the deepest hurt.
We have all been placed into unique and complex families – ones that define our outlook on life, inform our perspective, and affect our emotional health with regard to forming relationships with others. So is it really all that surprising that a holiday gathering with family can produce such a flood of emotions?
Just remember – one bad OR good gathering doesn’t dictate the script for future celebrations. But it’s important to manage your own expectations, release old disappointments, and open yourself to the possibilities each new gathering brings. As we head into this holiday season, my hope is that we can be thankful, humble, and open.