Big happy family

‘Tis the season.

Of, among other things, wishful thinking.

One example: the myth of the Big Happy Family.

The idea that two disparate sets of individuals joined by marriage — i.e., by accident — are supposed to love, like, or even tolerate each other.

That because it’s a holiday and they’re technically “family” they should be able to enjoy the day together and that nothing else should matter.  Not hidden conflicts, old wounds, personality clashes, political differences, substance abuse or mental disorders.

It’s this myth that persuades us to arrange gatherings of people who’d otherwise never spend five seconds together.  To bring them together and then add stress and alcohol and small children and physical disorder and expect everything to come off swimmingly.

Sigh.

I know many people who approach these gatherings with dread, and survive only with multiple emotional wounds.  Then the day after they crawl into my office to lick their wounds and debrief.

If we get to talk about it before it actually happens, I tell them this:

“Just be aware you’re walking into a setup.

“A setup for compulsive controlling of all sorts.

“A setup for denial, unrealistic expectations, people-pleasing, loss of self, emotional inauthenticity, hurt feelings and disappointment.

“In short, a CodependencyFest.

“Yes, some families can pull off this sort of thing with minimal damage.

“And some can’t, no matter how hard or how persistently they try.

“You need to ask yourself one question, and answer honestly:

“To which sort do you belong?”

 

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4 responses to “Big happy family

  • PD

    Hey Steve. This is a great post. For many years I always thought there was somthing wrong with me for hating the holidays. There is not much enjoyable at all for me . I do however enjoy home with the kids. But unfortunately there is all the other family members that we are tied to. I am under the assumption that because of my codependency I go along with the holiday bullshit. But I manage to stay out off all the other disfunctional outings – Wich is fit for a reality tv show. The funniest thing is my favorite family member. Who is a emotionally despondent alchohic who couldn’t give to shits about anyone or anything unless it is directly related to what they have going on in there life – or what they want. Yet somehow after a few wines they start with the family bullshit. Cameras etc. Probably for the refrigerator pix so anyone that comes believes everything is so perfect Me and my sister inlaw Smile and roll our eyes. And thank god another year is over. Anxiously waiting for the collage of bullshit pictures for everyone to see how perfect everything is. Happy Holidays Everyone

  • Simona

    A codependency fest!!! Love it!! :)) and so very true!

  • Eunice

    Hi Steve ~ I’m really glad you wrote about this. It really hits home with me. I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving/Christmas with my Mother so I stay home and do the things I enjoy doing. She calls me usually to lay the guilt trip or to bribe by saying something like “I got a present for you . . . why don’t you come over, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be living, and you’ll miss me once I’m gone.” She is older, but she is NOT dying or even on her deathbed. I’ve gone over there in the past but only for a hour or two, that is all I could stand. My brother and his daughter live with her.
    Truth is: I love her, but I can’t stand her personality or the bullcrap and I’d rather stay home. So I think I will shut my phone off, the night before, keep it off all day and that will be that, probably checking voicemails every 6 hours or so.
    My insides reel all day though because somewhere down in my DNA, there is this GUILT. Guilty because all daughters should love their mother’s dearly and spend quality time by helping them and doing things for them, and especially by spending every holiday hour with them, etc., etc.

    • Steve Hauptman

      I sympathize. And you’re probably right about the guilt being rooted as deep down as DNA.

      Then again, all control addiction boils down to a futile attempt to transform reality into what we think it should be,
      instead of adapting to what it is.

      Shutting your phone off sounds like a healthy example of the latter.

      Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

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