Have a Fun, Dysfunctional Holiday Season
Written By: Mark Smith
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We are again knee deep in the holiday season. I don't know about you, but for me that brings up some unique opportunities for extended family closeness (and craziness). At every family gathering that we have had that I can remember somebody at some point has gotten a little (or a lot) emotionally reactive. I seriously would miss it if it didn't happen. It just wouldn't be the holidays without it. It isn't always the same person " we take turns. Sometimes it is even me, the experienced therapist, writer, supervisor, Christian and long time recovering person who acts a little nuts. It is part and parcel of our family's heritage. I love and value my dysfunctional family and I wouldn't trade them for anything.
What wacky little things occur with your family system? Can you play with it a bit, or does it really get under your skin. I used to have a little cartoon that I would post about this time every year. It showed a stressed out lady bouncing off the walls at a family gathering and it read "˜Understand that just one visit home for the holidays can ruin a whole year of therapy.' That is funny, but I really don't believe that. Actually, if you want to grow as a person and advance in your therapy, one of the best things that you can do is go hang out with the whole "˜fam-damnaliy'. We draw a lot of our theory from a family therapist named Murray Bowen. He said that if you want to psychologically grow up and leave your family then you have to go and spend a lot of time with them making your own space while rubbing shoulders with them. Something that I have always said to my clients is "˜never underestimate the power of a gathered family.' What that means is that when you get in the not so friendly confines of your family of origin you might shrink down into a little kid and start acting powerless, reactive and completely unlike yourself. I'm going to date myself here - for those of you who were in your 30's in the 80's, you probably watched one of my favorite shows of all time, "˜ThirtySomething'. In one of the scenes Melissa shrank in to a little girl in a frilly dress licking a lollypop as her controlling father lectured her. That can happen. Even if you do get into a painful interchange with a member of your family it can encourage a lot of growth and healing on your part. If you can learn to be real, assertive and non-reactive with your family of origin " especially with your parents, then you can do it with anybody.
Inspite of your family's particular form of holiday and or year round craziness I want to encourage you to embrace and be thankful for your family. They are YOUR people. You can learn so much about yourself by being around them. Not everybody has family, so treasure them while you can. What are your family's strengths? My bunch tends towards being loud, proud, driven and controlling. While those traits can be quite wearing on those around us at times, I have been amazed at how much my siblings have accomplished in this world. My older brother has run and owned multi million dollar companies and he is in India now on a mission trip, my younger brother owns one of the top commercial real estate companies in the Indianapolis area and my sister is a successful attorney who has defended several very high profile death penalty inmates. Now you really wouldn't want to play an extended game of monopoly with our bunch. You wouldn't leave that game with warm fuzzy feelings. It would be a competitive battle to the death. My point is there is an upside to every negative family characteristic. What traits have you been gifted with from your particular dysfunctional family? I am so thankful for going through the trials and tribulations that my family went through as I was growing up. My parents married and then divorced each other three times " not a typo. We were poor, my dear mother had a bit of a temper and my dad was seldom around. From those experiences I have gleaned painful first hand knowledge that I have been able to then use to help countless other families. If life gives you some lemons, make an ice-cold pitcher of tasty lemonade! You are who you are due to your family " celebrate that this holiday season. You need to accept and value your family before you can fully accept and value yourself. Have a very merry dysfunctional Christmas.
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