Mother’s Day can trigger strong feelings and memories in most people. For some, the idea of a loving family exists only in movies and social media images. They have been disappointed, hurt, or rejected by those who claim to love them. For others, they’ve made a conscious decision to stay away from friends and family members as a means to self-protection against all kinds of abuse. Whatever it is, the idea of awkward family gatherings during holidays might cause you to feel insignificant and shrink from life itself.
This might not seem like a big deal. However, unresolved anxiety leading up to the holidays can affect your mind, productivity, and ultimately cause cognitive disorders down the road. In fact, research has shown that prolonged stress can affect your immune system, and these changes can persist over a month after experiencing stress.
This article will not fix all your relationship problems. But it doesn’t have to remain this way. So, how do you cope with family members who have long written you off or have unrealistic expectations of you? How do you survive awkward moments without sacrificing your own sanity?
Here are some mental shifts that can help you cope with awkward gatherings and dinners.
1) You are not a sum of anyone’s preconceived judgments.
You are not what other people think of you. Yes, your skills, talents, abilities can be appraised and are subjected to others’ opinion. However, the effects of criticism can only be amplified or controlled by one person: you.
Whether you’re labeled the black sheep in your family for not continuing old traditions or a contrarian for having polarizing opinions, you need to give yourself the permission to be wrong, imperfect, and different. You will get lost in your journey to discovering who you are, and will eventually enlist the help of people who will nudge you back on the right track.
Still, this should never come at the expense of losing yourself as a mindless puppet for others’ satisfaction.
2) Criticism is not always your enemy.
As a child, I grew up receiving praise and compliments from almost everyone. I was told I could write, sing, dance, and was wiser than kids my age. I believed them and drew my confidence from their comments. This was until I became a college student and received my first C in an English language class, a language I believed I had a good command of. My flaws were exposed and to say my whole world came crashing down is an understatement.
But here’s what I’ve learned so far: criticism is not your enemy. While it will make you feel good to get praises from family members, colleagues, and friends, they ultimately set you up for failure if this isn’t balanced with an objective evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.
3) You aren’t the steward of anyone’s feelings.
Ever get the feeling that you’re supposed to make everyone happy regardless of whether you’re being treated fairly or not? I used to feel that way until I began to physically manifest symptoms of stress whenever I surround myself with these people. It wasn’t until I understood the principle of creating healthy emotional boundaries that I finally experienced freedom from social anxiety.
We are social animals, and our happiness sometimes depends on the need to be needed by others. Unfortunately, you are not in control of how your family members respond to unfavorable circumstances in their lives. You are not responsible for moderating their feelings of pleasure, hurt, shame, greed, or content.
In other words, your children or relatives’ pain and misfortune do not justify their mistreatment of you. But you need to know and believe this.
4) Forgiveness for yourself comes first.
As a recovering perfectionist, the number one thing I have to remind myself is to let go of the need to be flawless.
The idea of a flawless human comes from a place of insecurity and the need to satisfy the illusion others have of you. You will make mistakes, and constantly too. You will fail to live up to someone else’s standards. You will fail to satisfy familial or “ancestral” requirements over and over again. And yes, it is okay to apologize for letting others down especially after you’ve promised to be there for them.
But remember this: you have a duty to forgive yourself for any perceived shortcomings and not stay captive to feelings of disappointment, shame, or embarrassment.
5) You control your journey to “success” on your own terms.
Maybe you want to make more money than you’re currently making because you want to. Alternatively, you might want to prove to your family members that you can be successful like your “cousins” despite not having a professional degree. In that case, I have good news for you.
You hold the reins to your wheel of success. Your idea of success doesn’t have to mirror what anyone thinks. You don’t have to go into debt to prove your worth to anyone. Neither do you need to thrust yourself into a job that slowly kills you just to earn few reluctant smiles of approval.
You get to decide what success looks like to you and relentlessly chase it.
It’s time to face your fears this holiday. Take these tips, get out there and start acting like you are not a failure. Because you’re not.