A link to Joanna Doane Ottavio's profile on Psychology Today, where she is verified as a fully licensed therapist in the state of Arizona.
A link to Joanna Doane Ottavio's profile on Online Counselling Directory, where she is verified as a licensed therapist providing online counseling in the state of Arizona.
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Day 1: The Family You Choose

Updated: Dec 24, 2019

“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching -- they are your family. ” ― Jim Butcher

Welcome to day 1 of my holiday series, Twelve Days of Self-Care. Today we're going to talk about the F-word: Family (get your mind out of the gutter). I have said for years: There is the family you are born into, and then there is the family you choose. We obviously have no say with regard to the family we are born into. Sometimes a miracle occurs, and the family one is born into comes fully equipped to provide all the love, safety, guidance, and unconditional acceptance one needs to thrive in this beautiful but chaotic world of ours. But, often times - for families that survived war, plague, slavery, and famine into the 21st century - they are amazing for having survived, but are otherwise unprepared for the complex needs of the latest generation of children. And, so, it's not totally surprising that we, today, too often find ourselves sitting around tables swallowing bites of food, but also very real resentments, jealousy, fear, and shame.

Question the Holidays

The first rule for holiday survival is to question the assumptions you make about the holiday season. We assume we have to spend every holiday with our the families we were born into, or perhaps adopted by, regardless of how badly doing so makes us feel. We're taught that the holiday season is about forgiveness, family togetherness, and selflessness. It's expected of us. It's 'normal'. As a licensed therapist, I will be the first to tell you that there is no such thing as 'normal'. But, if there is going to be a 'normal', it's got to be something better than feeling like crap year after year.

So, why do we do this to ourselves year-after-year? We don't have to spend this Christmas or Thanksgiving at Uncle Bob's or Grandma Betty's, and we often times dread doing so, but we still go? Why?

Common reasons may include:

  • Because you'd rather go that then spend the day obsessing about all the crap they're probably saying since you didn't go this year?

  • Because you're supposed to spend the holiday's with your family - they're not that bad?

  • Because otherwise you have nowhere else to go; why spend the holiday's lonely?

  • Because this year it will be different!

  • Because, given your new promotion, the weight you lost, or achievement blah-blah-blah, they're bound not to say anything this year that will be disrespectful. This year you'll make Dad proud, and he'll tell you so right in front of your little brother! HA!

Over the next six weeks, and particularly over the next week, we're going to talk about the assumptions we make about the holidays, the traditions we blindly follow year-after-year, and the resulting self-neglect you may be giving into without even necessarily questioning it. We're also then going to talk about some practical ways you can not fall into these habits, and even prevent these traps.