I wanted our family to have a different kind of holiday celebration. For me, Christmas had become materialistic and I wanted us to redirect our attention to love. I thought it would be fun if we each brought photos and memorabilia to share. Then, in my vision of holiday perfection, we would all gather around the tree to share feelings and connect deeply. This sounded a lot better to me than watching each other unwrap presents.
Unfortunately, I announced my plans to my stepchildren without inviting them to contribute their ideas as well. My stepson, in his early 30’s by then, was adamant: he would not show up for Christmas unless there were gifts.
At the time I thought he was being childish. But today I can see that making a change in a family tradition requires the participation of the entire family. I was instead, indulging an all too common codependent trait of deciding what is best for others and then proceeding to provide them with it whether they want it or not.
You have probably heard the term codependency. What does it bring to mind? Do you envision someone who allows others to dominate or bully them?
If that is your idea of codependency, you are only partially correct!
You see codependence has two sides and they look very different from each other. While some people allow others to tell them what to do, some people love to control others.
What these two sides of codependency have in common is an unhealthy lack of boundaries.
For most of us, codependency can be subtle. We may find ourselves unable to say no even when we wish we could. Perhaps we agree with someone else’s worldview in order to avoid conflict. Or maybe we yell a little louder with those we love, to make our point or get our way.
The holidays can bring added stress due to increased exposure to family, friends and our partners. And with that additional together time, we can experience a series of frustrating interactions that raise the potential for conflict.
But you can take steps to avoid that drama/trauma this year!
If you would like to increase your chances for a happy holiday season, consider these three keys to enjoying a codependent-free holiday:
1. Don’t Begin Your Sentences with “You”
This one really works wonders. You see when anyone hears the word “You” at the beginning of a sentence their gut tightens a little with the automatic expectation that they are going to be criticized.
If you want to ensure the other person is not on the defensive before you get another word out of your mouth, don’t begin your sentences with the word “You.” Instead begin your sentences with “I feel” and then do your best to supply an actual feeling. You might be surprised how many people say “I feel like you are being a jerk” or “I feel like you are being selfish,” etc.
Those are not feelings. They are judgments. Feelings look like this: “I feel sad,” “I feel angry,” “I feel lonely,” “I feel happy,” “I feel confused,” etc. Keep it about you and the person you are talking to will be much more able to open their heart to you and actually hear what you have to say.
2. Don’t Disagree Until You Validate
Usually, when we disagree, we hope the other person will listen to our reasoning. We may hope to change their mind or at least receive their empathy for our perspective. But if you rush to share what you think and feel before validating what the other person thinks and feels, they won’t be able to hear you. And you won’t enjoy the results.
So the first words out of your mouth need to be an acknowledgment of what the other person said and what value you see in what they shared.
Validating is NOT agreeing. Validating is a way to communicate that you feel the other person has value and that you appreciate the fact that they are sharing their feelings and thoughts with you. If you don’t value this person or their thoughts and feelings, I don’t recommend that you even bother disagreeing with them. Instead, walk away from the conversation.
But if you do value connection with this person, be sure the let them know that you appreciate that they have shared their thoughts and feelings. Then you can disagree. But do so with an open mind if at all possible. Look for the overlap between what you feel/believe and what they feel/believe. If there is any overlap, be sure to point that out so you can both focus on potential points of agreement.
3. Admit You Can’t Control Others and Take Responsibility for Yourself
It’s not easy to take responsibility for our words and actions – especially when the people around us fail to do so. When we get blamed for something, we want to defend ourselves. But this never works. By the time things have degraded to the blame game, no one is listening to each other or able to access their intelligence.
The best thing to do is take a breath and remember that you cannot control others. Then remind yourself that there is only one person you can control: you. And put your attention there.
Is it time to move away from this particular person and connect with someone else? Is it time to step away from this particular party/event/gathering and do something nice for yourself?
You might also try changing the topic. Or if you are feeling particularly brave and empowered, you could sit quietly and listen. I have learned a lot by keeping my mouth shut and just listening. And sometimes what I learn is that I no longer wish to have a close connection with this person. Other times I have been able to hear why this person is so angry and it has helped our connection.
Fortunately codependency does not have to ruin your holiday. You can move away from dysfunctional patterns and toward healthy boundaries that draw people closer to you. By practicing these three steps you will enjoy a lot more peace on earth.
Veronica Monet, ACS coaches her clients to healthier, happier connections through her Exquisite Partnership Formula ™