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How to Navigate the Holidays and Avoid the Codependency Trap by: K. Petersen M.A., LMFT

While Thanksgiving may have passed, many more holidays are quickly approaching. For some, the holiday season is a welcome, happy opportunity to spend with family and friends. For others, it’s pure chaos.

Families struggling with an addict often find the holiday season to be the most stressful, exhausting time of the year.

This year, let’s help you change that: here’s now to navigate through the holiday season and avoid the codependency trap.

What is the codependency trap?

The codependency trap is when you – the family member of the addict – fall back into the old system or old way of doing things because it feels easier to avoid conflict. Often, you may find yourself thinking, “I won’t tell him that his behavior bothers me because he’ll go even crazier.” In a codependency trap, you feel concerned and worried about other people’s feelings. The codependency trap often causes resentment and a downward spiral of frustration.

The first step in avoiding the codependency trap, reducing resentment, and setting yourself up for a happy holiday season is to recognize that your needs come first. An addict will use everything to their advantage to get what they want. You, however, need to set boundaries about what you are and are not okay with.

Step 1 – Set boundaries:

Setting boundaries starts with sitting down and figuring out what you are or are not comfortable with. And as a reminder: it’s about what YOU are and are not comfortable with – not the rest of your family. It isn’t your responsibility to figure out the rest of the family’s needs. Think about what you want to set. Do you want to set the boundary to have a sober Christmas dinner? Is the boundary that you don’t want certain family members to drink because every year they overdo it? Be specific and concise about your boundaries.

Step 2 – Create accountability measures:

Boundaries are meaningless if there aren’t any accountability measures in place to enforce them. For example, if your boundary is that you want a sober Christmas dinner, then the accountability needs to be that you’ll ask the family members to use a breathalyzer if they appear intoxicated when they arrive. While it sounds extreme, remember that the boundaries and how you enforce them are about you and what you’re comfortable with.

Step 3 – Communicate these expectations with your family:

Be sure to communicate your boundaries and accountability measures in advance of the holiday event. Waiting until the last minute can create unnecessary drama. Be straightforward, clear and concise. Maintain a collected, unemotional tone, and avoid any sort of punishing, shaming, or degrading tone.

And most importantly: don’t worry about getting other people upset or mad.

Resentment comes from not taking care of yourself and instead, feeling as if you need to do crisis management and take care of everyone else.

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