Another Thanksgiving has come and gone and many are preparing for the Christmas holiday season – some with great happiness and some with trepidation.

Thanksgiving, a holiday which I have always believed has never gotten the attention it deserves because it falls between Halloween and Christmas, is a most favorite holiday to many as there is no pressure; no pressure on spending money, gift giving, or decorating.  It is simply a time to be thankful for what you have and for those in your life for which you are truly grateful.  However, thanks to holiday commercialism, and Black Friday creeping its way backwards to Thanksgiving Thursday, it makes it difficult for some to truly relish the feeling of being thankful and stress-free as they are consumed with purchasing holiday gifts for loved ones while “beat the clock” plays in their head.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, contentment, forgiveness, love, and reconnecting to those in our lives we hold most dear.  But for many the holidays bring about stress on many levels.  Stress that is brought on by peoples toxic behavior can pack a heavier punch around the holidays.  Imagine having a boss like Ebenezer Scrooge who said in A Christmas Carol “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”   Whoa, quite harsh, and very toxic indeed!  I am not saying every toxic person is like Old Scrooge, but those people in our lives, like Ebenezer who maybe had some rough beginnings and/or through life’s hardships have lost their true self and gratitude toward others, create toxicity in their own life and may take pleasure in unleashing it on others.  That behavior can really block our own holiday happiness!

When I write about “family” toxicity it not only applies to biological family, but to work family as well!  There are those we work with on a daily basis who reveal their negative behavior by way of constant criticism, always pointing out what’s wrong instead of what’s right, commiserating with others about their unhappiness, never satisfied or grateful for what they have, putting down others…That is a lot to take 5 days a week, 8 hours a day!

Before we go any further I would like to note that this blog is not about making you feel more stressed, it is about bringing you awareness.  Breaking patterns that no longer serve you, reframing how you look at things, and at people.  Helping you lead with more energy and less stress in your life!  So stick with me, OK?!  

When you are faced with the toxic people in your life how do you respond?  What if they are family?  Have we become resolved to endure family toxicity because it’s the holidays, counting down the days until it’s over just so we can start preparing for it all over again next year?

For those of you blessed with an amazingly positive family in your life that have not known the black hole of what seems like endless family holiday get togethers, good on you!  I wish you many more holidays filled with excitement, joy and gratitude!  For those of you that have not experienced pure holiday bliss, you are not alone.  Or, maybe you are alone by choice.  I have known quite a few people who through an “avoidance tactic” leave for vacation well before Christmas and do not return until after the new year.

Some acquaintances I have known through the years have been so traumatized by painful holiday memories that they skip the entire season altogether!  No holiday decorating, no gift giving, no communication.  It pained me to hear about their experiences.  But we all have a choice on how we look at things.  Just because “bad things” happen doesn’t mean it will always be “bad”.

During the holiday season as we watch our favorite movie classics of which there are many common themes – one most common is the dreaded family get together or interaction full of anger, resentment, conflict, and/or sadness.  Think of A Christmas Carol, Home for the Holidays, Home Alone, Scrooged, The Grinch, The Ref etc.  Ellen Griswold says to her daughter in Christmas Vacation – “It’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery.”

Talk about giving the holidays a bad name!  We laugh about it because we can relate to the characters and their experiences, but are we subconsciously planting those negative seeds in our heads expecting a season of headaches and tension?

When it comes to the holidays, what are we accepting in our lives as the “norm” and why?

A popular trend Friendsgiving, a mashup of the word “friend” and “thanksgiving” that refers to a large meal among friends eaten during the Thanksgiving season first appeared around 2007 as an informal replacement for the holiday typically spent with family.  Why did this trend become a trend? Hmmmm….  Maybe we wanted more control of our holiday season enjoyment so we opened it up to all the people we have in our lives – particularly those with which we have the most fun.

Almost everyone I know celebrates the holidays with a Friendsgiving, or Friendsmas, and even a newer get together such as Galentines Day – Valentine’s Day spent with your friends.  Any excuse to celebrate more often with people you have CHOSEN to be in your life has grown tremendously over the years.  And why is that?  Those we have chosen to be in our tribe, or “circle of trust”, are there for many reasons.  We attracted these amazing friends into our lives because we share the same values.  We accept each other, warts and all.  People with which we can be our most vulnerable selves, without judgementjust fun, love, acceptance and friendship.

I was very apprehensive about my first experience as the “friend” being invited to another’s family holiday celebration.  When you are around people that share a genetic bond you at first tend to linger in the hallway, hat-in-hand, until with great surprise and relief are warmly greeted with open arms, smiles and handshakes.  Then you think to yourself, “Wow, they all seem so happy to be together!  How is that possible?  What is their secret?”

Now, I am not saying that ALL family holidays and ALL relatives are toxic nightmares, but there always seem to be a handful of people that do their best to try and ruin others holiday cheer.   I am sure you can name one or two right off the top of your head in your biological and work families.

I LOVE seeing families and friends that enjoy spending holiday time together.  So much laughter and kindness and I am always grateful to be a part of it.  Years ago, I realized I had a choice and began to reframe how I viewed the holidays – focusing on the true meaning and those people that positively enhanced the experience.

Remember, you cannot control or change other people’s thoughts, behaviors, or emotions. And you can’t “fix” others.  But, you can focus on strategies that help you to set boundaries, self-soothe, avoid engaging in toxic behavior, and INSPIRE them to do the same.  The choice to enjoy your holidays is always up to you!

Holidays are not about “making it through”, getting or giving the most expensive gift or getting your gifts 50% off.  They are not about expecting and enduring toxicity.

The holidays are about love and spending time with those you love. It’s about staying close to those who are important to you. It’s about being thankful for what you have and who you have in your life.

As we gather with the ones we hold dear this holiday season, there is no “correct” formula with whom you spend your holidays.  Dickens couldn’t have said it better when he wrote in Nicholas Nickleby “Family need not be defined merely as those with whom we share blood, but as those for whom we would give our blood.”

Even in the movies, when our favorite characters go through those painful life-changing experiences, in the end they understand what is truly important. But they would not know that had they not gone through it.

Toxicity is not meant to be expected or endured.  All people and things teach us something about ourselves – experiences from which we learn and grow.  The “how” is up to you.

Hold true to your values and beliefs and deflect the toxicity of others as that is their own, not yours.  Remember, everyone sees things from their own perspective based on their experiences.

This holiday season inspire those individuals to see what matters most.  You may give them an experience they will truly treasure!

Happy Holidays to you and those you hold dear!