Looking After your Mental Health over Christmas
By: Beth McHugh 2007
The holiday period can be a stressful time as families get together and old grievances move from festering mode into an outright screaming match. So how can you make this Christmas a better one in terms of your mental health? The key is to Be Prepared!
If you have a history of unhappy Christmases with your family, the first option to consider is whether to see your birth family at all. Where considerable damage has been wreaked by a parent on a child, or by one sibling on another, and there is no hope of change, it can be preferable to sever contact with a highly-destructive family member. This is often the best option as continuing to see the offending person only causes further heartbreak, not only to you but to any children you may now bring to the table. The cycle of abuse continues.
After being verbally and emotionally abused by her sister for as long as she could remember, Miriam decided to have no further contact with her sister, Rachel. At the age of 31, she had had enough. Emotionally abused by her older sister all through childhood and the teenage years Miriam decided, after another particularly nasty one-sided verbal bashing from Rachel, that nothing was ever going to change.
In ending the relationship, Miriam decided to formalize it and wrote her sister a letter. It was a cool, calm letter outlining that she required her sister to either be civil to her, or remain silent. Miriam also offered to show the letter to her mother, but her mother declined to read it, simply stating that Miriam was being “difficult.”
But Miriam had had enough of the dysfunctional family dynamic. Her attempt to show transparency to her mother was greeted with more abuse, but she sent the letter anyway. As she predicted, her sister Rachel opted for the silent treatment, but not before phoning their mother to complain about the letter. On Miriam’s next contact with her mother, she was greeted with: “Why are you so nasty to your sister?”
But Miriam, who had gone through months of counseling, remained strong. She calmly stated to her mother that there was nothing offensive in the letter, that she had merely asked her sister to be civil or be silent, and pointed out that any person who was routinely civil would not be offended by being asked to be civil. She also offered her mother a second chance to read her letter. Her mother declined.
In taking control of this situation and setting her own boundaries, Miriam saw that her family was never going to be healed and she was best out of the situation. Her eleven year older sister, Rachel, was actually far less mature than Miriam, and the mother’s response clearly demonstrated to Miriam that the former had been unable to deal with the problems that existed between the two girls as children, and had no hope now that they were adults.
Miriam now sees her mother when it suits her, and has had well-deserved
peace from her sister’s abrasive tongue for over ten years. Miriam
claims it was the best thing she ever did in her life. Not even the
death of the father years later would entice Rachel to be civil to Miriam,
so Miriam now rejoices in the peace that she made the right decision.