Debunking 5 Holiday Myths
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the November 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Home for the holidays. The very image can cause us to develop excruciating holiday back spasms, sometimes as early as September—because the cliché of familial holiday bliss has an evil twin: that of the dysfunctional family at its worst. For the legion of CDFs (Children of Dysfunctional Families), don't assume that you can't enjoy family gatherings. With the right mental set, you can have a good, relaxing time at whatever festivities you attend, no matter how wacko your kinfolk may be.
The single best way to cope with familial turmoil is to give up the hope that your relatives will suddenly become cornucopias of emotional health. Instead of yearning for a perfect family, listen to teacher Byron Katie, author of the book I Need Your Love—Is That True? "If I had a prayer," she writes, "it would be this: 'God spare me from the desire for love, approval, and appreciation. Amen.'" This sounds harsh if you've never experienced freedom from these desires, which comes when you accept yourself. Try one of Katie's exercises: Imagine drinking a cup of tea with a family member, without attempting in any way to get love, approval, or appreciation. You'll suddenly feel safer, more resilient, more at peace. Paradoxically, you get this blessed feeling by not grasping for it. Make Katie's exercise a reality by considering your family holiday a BYOLAA event—bring your own love, approval, and appreciation. The philosopher Lao-tzu said that when you do this, "you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother."
It's far easier to let go of judgment or competitiveness and reach this contented place when you aren't intent on forcing people to be what they're not. And you invite inner peace when you stop trying to force yourself either to change your relatives or to think of them as sane. By acknowledging your own infinite value, you'll see more value in others—just as they are. You may even stumble across a surprising holiday gift: the understanding that truly "going home" happens within you, the moment you give yourself the unconditional acceptance you thought you needed from your kin.
— Martha Beck