Families and Christmas: An Explosive Combination

Christmas is the season of good cheer, right? Well, for the most part it is. But for some people the holiday season is a time of verbal, physical and emotional abuse as families meet and “gifts” are exchanged.

Often when we meet up with our parents and siblings at this time of year, there is more that the Christmas spirit bubbling away within us. In fact, the holiday season is a busy time for hospital staff and mental health workers alike. There is something about the expectations surrounding Christmas that elicits powerful emotions in us when those expectations are not met.

Although we may be grown men and women with successful jobs and demanding schedules, there is something about being in the house of our childhood with our birth family that brings up resentments and other emotions that we are successfully able to keep in check through most of the year.

Suddenly we become the younger sister again instead of the competent wife and worker, and sibling rivalries roar into action. Or we may be the elder brother who feels he must rule over his younger siblings only to realize that that power is gone. And then there is the competition for our parents’ love. Is Johnnie’s present more expensive than mine? How come he got a better present than me? The child of the past is never far away when it comes to Christmas. We can turn from a mature adult to a fretful infant in the blink of an eye.

In some ways going to a family Christmas party can be like going to a school reunion, especially when the family is widely separated and only meets rarely. We may try to look act and maturely but it doesn’t take long for old jealousies and insecurities to arise. Although Christmas and other family get-togethers can be full of love and affection in a well-adjusted family, the truth is that many families are far from functional, and this time of the year can quickly turn into a family battleground. Many a holiday dinner has been ruined by the raised voices of parents, adult children and even in-laws, all adding to the Christmas cheerlessness.

Sometimes, you may need to plan your Christmas visit just as you would if you were going into battle. We’ll look at tips for keeping your cool this Christmas in coming articles.

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