197. Holidays + Grief, Family Dynamics, Boundaries, Self-Care and Joy – tips from a counsellor

This is part 2 of the situations that can feel tough around the holidays. We explore how we deal with grief, family dynamics and clashes and ways we can take care of ourselves and look for ways to enjoy what is available to us. Tips from a counsellor to consider for the holiday season. 



Main topics of this episode:

Sign up for the Simple Saturdays email here



Hi, It is Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend counselor from simple on purpose.ca Welcome to the simple on purpose podcast. And I’m just going to jump right into it. This episode is a follow up to 196 When Christmas feels hard, in that we introduced the concepts of making one shift for yourself this Christmas in the US things that feel hard. And we talked about anticipatory anxiety that you might be feeling stressed around the lack of routine, the pressures that we feel on Christmas spending money, being alone at Christmas being in a time transition. So those were all really great intros in situations that were shared. And I’m going to pick up and continue on with the topics of grief, family dynamics and boundaries. So the topic of grief was shared in the scenarios that women shared about the things that feel hard at Christmas. So there are things that we are grieving, we might be grieving this deed of the world right now, we might be grieving, a loss of what we thought this year would be. Maybe we’re walking through a loss a loss of a person that you love, a loss of a relationship, a loss of a family, or friends system as you knew it. And if if someone has lost someone in the recent years, they’re going through these seasons of life without that person for the first time. If someone has had a divorce or changes in their family, even if it was wanted, they’re still left with this blank space that was once filled with familiar patterns and people and traditions they could rely on. And they know there are people grieving losses that happened over the past few years and didn’t really get a chance to mourn during COVID Things have gone unaddressed. And new griefs can trigger old griefs. I wanted to share an experience that I had with grief around Christmas time. A few Christmases ago, during COVID, my mom had what was suspected to be a mini stroke, and she already had dementia. So from this, she was put into the hospital and then moved into a care facility. But at that time when it first happened, and she was in the hospital, she couldn’t talk. She wasn’t very responsive. She had to be spoon fed, she was in a wheelchair. And this was such a dramatic contrast to where she had just been. I mean, my dad had taken care of her for years. And this incident had forced her into a care facility. It also meant because it was COVID, she had to be isolated for two weeks, no one could go in and see her. And there’s so much more I could share on this than I’m going to write here. But at that time, I thought my mom was dying. She has recovered from this and is in care and doing well. But at that time, it was Christmas time. I was supposed to be enjoying this time with my kids and grief felt like water rising and flooding over me. It felt like such a great sadness. It still is a great sadness in my life. And that’s the thing, grief doesn’t look at the calendar. It doesn’t wait for the holidays to be over. It doesn’t take a break during the holidays. Grief is something you carry with you like rocks in a backpack and over time, you acclimatized to it, it’s still there. It’s important to acknowledge and validate this, acknowledge that things feel hard. If you have the space and capacity for it, acknowledge what you’re missing, who you miss what you miss about them what you wish this could be right now and validate this. If it feels appropriate, do something to honor that person that you miss. One way I tried to honor my mom at Christmas time is to intentionally and with love and mindfulness admire all of the ornaments that she had given me over years, which I took for granted as a child. But each year there’s the date on the back. And as I hang them up, I look at the back I think about old I was and each ornament is represents a picture of who she saw me as over the years of my life. Each one I feel like has a bit of a story. And sometimes I will share that story out loud to the kids and to my husband. And that is a way that I feel like I bring her in to my Christmas and and carry it on through me for grief. There are different stages that we go through and those around us are grieving in different ways or at different stages. It can feel tricky to navigate our grief amidst the grief of others. My encouragement to you here if you feel like you’re in a period of grief at Christmas is to keep getting support from it. Like listen to podcasts. I’m sure there’s so many great ones. Read about it. If you feel like it could help you talk to someone. Get support calling a support line, talk to a therapist or a friend or go to a support group but get yourself some support. Grief doesn’t have to be gone through You’re alone even if it makes you feel alone. The next major category of scenarios that were shared with me were issues related to family dynamics. Some of the examples shared with me were in laws, expectations from in laws, communicating expectations within laws, feeling annoyed my family, but I don’t want to feel annoyed, the differences in personalities of the people around and those differences are usually inflamed by alcohol. We see there’s difficult people, there’s personality clashes, and they often become heightened at the holidays. One part of our pain is that we’re wishing the other people were acting differently, if they would be easier to get along with and be better communicators fill in the blanks, if they could just do this, then it would all be easier. And the other part of the pain is that mentally and emotionally, we start thinking things and feeling things and we don’t want to like the great example shared there is that scenario of I’m annoyed, but I don’t want to be annoyed. Because we don’t like how that feels in us. We don’t like who we are. In that situation. We don’t like how it makes us think and feel an act. And we just want it to feel better. If I can give a starting point to shift here. It would be acknowledging the facts of how you’re feeling like I do wish it were different. I do wish they would do this and act like this. And I do wish I would feel like this. And that isn’t happening. And that makes me feel what overwhelmed mad sets just start there. For family dynamics, I received this situation that I thought was wildly insightful. This is one that is big for me is how I revert into old mindsets around my family, especially when it comes to my appearances, like not wearing makeup when all my other family members do not buying into diet culture weight discussions, even though all my other family members do. Also feeling like my choices are not being accepted and being treated like a kid again. And the first thing I hear in this one is that you have values now that your family of origin might not share. And it is hard when we stack them up against the weight of the family capital T capital F no family. One way to think about this, that could help is the concept of owning your values. Right now your values are being challenged. And this is exactly when you need to back them up and feel empowered by them and put them into action in a loving way. For me, that would sound like okay, everyone’s on their journey, doing what feels genuinely right to them, even if I think it’s misguided. Because we don’t want to get into the space where we’re trying to convert others. We also don’t want to keep feeling like we have to buy what they’re selling. Of course, it would be easy if everyone thought the exact same but we all have agency and opinions. You can also consider that there might even be a situation where others feel a bit insecure. When they stack up their own values up against yours, the way you live might challenge them and that would make them feel uncomfortable. And the easiest way for us to feel like we are right is to find a way that someone opposing is wrong. I mean, we both do it to each other. Step back. Let others have their own journey focus on feeling empowered about yours. For many of these quote people scenarios. If we look at a big picture, we can see a lot of us reverting to the roles we play within the family system. As you gear up to spend time with the people that you clash with. Or just being back in your family in your old town in your own in your old home. It could be worth asking, what roles do I play? What roles do I give to others? What roles do I give to myself? Do you play the peacekeeper? Do you play the victim? And who do you make the villain in contrast to that

is someone in your family the scapegoat receiving blame for everything that goes wrong? You can google family roles and you can get a lot of examples. What we’re doing is we’re putting ourselves and others into these roles. When we’re together, we’re playing it out, we might not even be aware of it. These roles are the ways that we cope and communicate with each other and it’s so ingrained in us. It’s how we were raised essentially programmed to operate within this family system. And now that we’re back in the system, we take on the role we have always taken and we look to others to do what they have always done. If you find you’re starting to talk in absolutes, you’ll notice this, they always do this, they never do that. I always have to do this. When we’re doing that we’re filtering out evidence to the contrary, that’s our confirmation bias. We can’t see any instances where they are acting in a way that doesn’t confirm our belief about them. I talked about this a bit more in the episode on typecasting your kids I’ll link that in the show notes. The starting point here that I would offer is to grow more awareness of yourself versus awareness of others. This season, one shift you can make pay attention to you? What’s your experience like in your body and your mind? How are you acting? What stories? Do you show up with what triggers you? How do you react? Who would you be without these stories? As we talk about having difficult people to deal with during the holidays, it also brings up the concept of boundaries. And when I say boundaries, I don’t mean barriers to keep people out. I mean, you might need, you might need barriers for the people that could cause you harm. But generally, boundaries are the things that we are going to do for ourselves to ensure our resources are protected our energy, our safety is protected. So some examples could be if the conversation is aggressive or inappropriate, I just get up and leave the room. If I don’t have the time, or money or capacity to participate or contribute, we can assertively loving and shared, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. But I can do this instead. And no one will protect your boundaries. That’s actually your job. And it does come with some pain that is for sure. I have had boundaries for myself around Christmas, even Christmases where I wanted to be home with my kids, and I didn’t want to travel and all that kind of stuff. And so we’d made the choice to stay home. Another Christmas where I had to have boundaries around attending an event where there was a person that I didn’t want in my life or my kids life. And that was hard. Because there was all these people gathered at Christmas that I really wanted to be with them. But I wouldn’t put myself around that one person. And I was missing out. Of course, the people I love were upset. And I had to hold strong to that, that it was actually the right thing to do that it was very values based and very loving. With all of these situations that we go through when it comes to gathering together and the events and all of the expectations and the situations and gatherings it’s it’s worth noting that something that can help all of us is to take care of our own capacity. And by this I mean sleeping, eating good food, like you’re good enough cheese and pickles and salami those check off a lot of books, it’s right there. I’m sure God made me celiac as a gift to me. So that I wouldn’t destroy my own body. Yeah, I can still by the way, I’m sure. So nourishing yourself getting outside moving around doesn’t have to be an hour the gym guys like just go for a walk, talking to people that you enjoy that you love talking with phone up a friend planning activities that you want to do at Christmas time. Maybe taking some time away heading into your room for a nap, or some time away and limiting alcohol. When we don’t do these things. And when alcohol gets involved without limits or intention, we will often find that our emotions will take the driver’s seat. And our logic is just too tired and worn out to step in. Protect your capacity. Protect your capacity to deal with the situations by taking care of yourself. My final piece of advice in all of this is to give yourself permission to hold on to hope and to even enjoy things. We sometimes trap ourselves with this notion that if we enjoy things, and by default, we must approve of things. It can almost feel necessary to stay in a state of disapproval or grief or overwhelm as a statement maybe to say we don’t approve, we will not feel happy. I will not let out a lap. We won’t stop and make eye contact. We won’t look up from what we’re doing. We won’t engage. It feels protective, it feels so necessary. But this protective layer keeping everyone out and ourselves in it’s keeping the goodness from getting in. One way I’ve tried to challenge this for me myself, is to make fun for an event if there’s kids, like make it about the kids plan a fun game for them. One year, I planned a big trivia event for my family gathering. I had questions in there about our family history about each person in the family. And that was just a way for me to channel all my nervous energy, my grief about the changing situation with my mom not being able to participate, how she would have and just offer something, bring something to the situation that felt like it offered a connection and it felt light hearted. It’s hard to feel this way when Christmas is hard. But happiness is available to you. Even in hard times. There are little moments of goodness and you’re allowed to enjoy things even if you’re grieving or things are genuinely hard. This is a time to lean in to two things being true. I wish it wasn’t like this that I will show up for the good things that are available to me. I will let hard things be hard. But I will also soften myself to engage with those moments of goodness that are still there for me. The hard and the awesome wow. drafting this episode alone, it made me feel the fields. Big time and I’m feeling them again talking about all this in drafting it up. I was really transported back to hard seasons. I’ve had a Christmases over the years Christmases that have broken my heart, there have been quite a few. And I was also brought into yours too. With each scenario that was shared with me, I just wanted to like, hug each woman who shared because the burdens we carry are real. And you just want to hold everyone’s faces in my hands and tell them they’re doing amazing. And life is hard, and you’re brave, and you’re doing our things, and I’m proud of you. So take care of your hearts this season, take care of your people, and make a point to enjoy one little thing in this holiday. Because it’s your experience too. And your experience matters because you matter. I’m going to sign off until the new year, I would love it. If I came back in the new year to a rating and review that you leave on iTunes, even if you don’t listen on iTunes also will computer robots. They really love those reviews on iTunes. In order for the podcast to show up in search results. Those reviews really help. And I also encourage you to enter the new year as being a member of the simple Saturday’s email. It comes out twice a month. There’s 1000s of you guys on there. It’s fun email. It’s not like other email, it is cool email. There’s a lot of little thought nuggets and behind the scenes and things that are happening that don’t make it onto Instagram or anything. It really is the best way to stay connected because it doesn’t rely on the algorithms of social media which you guys, I don’t play those games. Have you you’ve probably seen a reel back from me but it was by mistake. So if you really want to stay connected with simple on purpose, join that email and the link for that is of course in the show notes. If you can’t find the show notes, click on simple on purpose.ca Click Listen, you’ll find all of the episodes, all of the show notes all of the related links and at the very bottom. You can find the transcript alright bands, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, whatever you’re celebrating. I hope you celebrate it on purpose with them.


Leave a comment