As we move into the holiday season, several members of our community have voiced struggles with family gatherings. Some specific concerns we’ve encountered have been around setting boundaries gently and with grace, dealing with family members that don’t want to hear or understand cancer, and trying to makepeace with the idea that holidays may look different than in the past.
Fighting Pretty asked certified Trauma Coach, Jennifer Kindera, to guide us through some of the challenges and possible responses that may be helpful this season during our intimate "Fighting Pretty Conversations" series we host every month.
Jennifer not only provided amazing perspective, but gave us some quick tips on how to navigate and cope with family through the holidays. But the first thing to ask yourself is why are attending this event and what do you hope to get out of it? Then, motivate yourself on how you will get through it. Just remember, we don't do work to change other people, we do this to remove our need for them to change. We can only control ourselves.
Here are some ways Jennifer shares for us to think about implementing small goals, ideas and techniques to keep you feeling safe and secure:
This topic always comes up as a healthy solution, but what does it actually mean? You may be asking yourself:
- How do I take care of myself with over-imposing family members?
- How do I deal with a conversational narcissist
Keep in mind that boundaries are for you personally - about what you will and won’t allow around you.
Our bodies are indelibly connected to our brains, so be sure to listen to yourself, and pay close attention to the emotions in your body and how they're affecting you.
For Jennifer, anger is a clear signal boundaries have been crossed. It can be a challenge, but we must learn to listen and respect the warning signals anger is sending us and respond to it to take care of ourselves.
We all know the value of self-care, but over the last couple of years, we’ve learned that self care is not just Netflix binges and bubble baths. Self care needs to be a living, breathing thing in our lives. It’s important to recognize the difference between self care needs vs. self care wants.
Needs are food, water, shelter, etc. Self care wants are broader, doing what you need to to feel safe, secure, valued. Ask yourself, “Am I getting the emotional support I need?” or the bigger question, "am I sharing myself with people who are not worthy to hear my story and don’t value me?" You may need to shore up your support structure. A quick tip?
Start a small self care practice. What are some small self care practices you can do today? Challenge yourself to see how many days/weeks you can keep it up. That way, it will be a habit you can fall back on before you get into tricky situations/gatherings. Remember, self care needs to be reassessed frequently; what worked last week may not work next week and that’s ok.
Sometimes, getting trapped in a conversation that is crossing your boundaries or making you uncomfortable regardless of self care is unavoidable. Let's be real. Here are some ways to respond:
- Acknowledge first. Let them know you hear them, but don’t engage with what they are saying. You could say something like “thank you for sharing your opinion” or “I appreciate you telling me that.”
- Take a break. If you need to walk away to take a breath, that's ok. Go to the bathroom or refill your drink if you need a moment alone. If you feel safe, voice the truth (always keeping an eye on your window of capacity and potential activation in your nervous system). Keep in mind to gently maintain your intrapersonal bridge, your attunement with yourself and valuing yourself. Remember your needs matter!
- Trust your gut. What happens if ‘gentle’ doesn’t work? With gentle assertiveness, less is more. “No” is a complete sentence. It can be very powerful and empowering to say “It really hurts me that you don’t truly want to hear what is happening with me.” What feels right? Trust your gut.
- Redirect. Ask about them, most people love to talk about themselves (How’s work? What’s going on with XYZ?)
- Be honest. When they ask "How are you?" and you know they are not quite interested, tell them anyway. It's on them if they aren't interested. If they say they are not interested in hearing about what you’re dealing with, you can say “I’m sorry you feel that way. Oh Look! My glass is empty, thanks for chatting.” You can always walk away. In the case of slighting, minimization, diminishing comments/communication, let the person know that it isn’t okay to treat you that way if you can; again, if you can’t, walk away.
- Have an escape plan. You get to choose who you engage with and how much. Drive yourself or ride with a trusted person.
- Breathe. Take a moment to regulate your breath and this can reset your entire system. Breathe in for 4 counts through your nose, hold for 7 counts, then breathe out slowly through your mouth for 8 counts.
Remember, the trauma of what you have been through or are going through. You are strong, you are brave and you are navigating so much. You do not have to apologize to anyone for your vulnerability, your grief or anxiety.
Coming into the holidays is difficult for people whether they have experienced a cancer diagnosis or not. The holidays may look different this year and that’s ok! Think about what you need, what you want and how you can you keep nurturing and loving yourself in the face of change. Maybe releasing the past of "normal" opens the door for something new and amazing.
Girl, you got this and we are here for you every step of the way!