The holiday season is the one time of year when everyone is expected to be happy, joyful and get on with everyone, even people that we have very little to do with. It is a season where hopes are high and everybody makes an extra effort to make it nice. Old disputes are forgotten for a couple of weeks as the holiday cheer takes hold. It is also a time when the daily grind is put to one side for a while as we concentrate on nicer things generally. Not everyone will feel the same of course. There will be many people spending the holiday season alone, in crisis or sick and all the best to them.
One group that finds the holiday season especially difficult are codependents. Giving and sacrificing people as they generally are, Christmas gives them the ample chance to amplify this tremendously. They enjoy it because they get the chance to fix, sacrifice and martyr. They will have been planning for months beforehand down to the last detail and of course, will do it all themselves, not allowing anyone to interfere. ‘It is just easier to do it myself’, they will say’ Last time I asked, nobody did anything’ (another issue). They convince themselves that the whole shebang will not work unless they do everything. The gifts and wrapping will be perfect, the dinner prepared and cooked perfectly, they will be in the kitchen afterwards doing washing up before preparing the next round. When they do sit down, they will be very conscious of others, making sure everyone’s needs are constantly cared for. It makes me just tired thinking about it.
It could well be the case that the people around codependents are quite happy to allow them to do everything, enabling such attitudes and generally this is the case. However, there are some who generally want to help and this help is often refused. It becomes a dysfunctional habit that is hard to break and occurs frequently, not just during the holiday season. This often instigates the drama triangle of fixing, anger and victimhood that very much defines codependent behaviour.
So why do they do it? Codependents are dependent on external validation having difficulty validating themselves and holidays like Christmas give them the chance to instigate all the validation they need. However, it never quite works out they way they expect as their expectation of “return” is not realised, often leading to the “drama” described above. It is a cycle and as with any cycle, needs to be broken.
Amongst my client group of codependents in recovery, I have several who are dreading the next week, the work involved and what state they will be in come the new year. This is of course, mostly self-afflicted. I spoke to one this week who documented just how much work she will be doing around Christmas while her partner watches tv. Fixing and enabling at its highest.
As with everything codependency, the main issue here is not just about setting boundaries (in the case described above, we worked on a list of things she was willing to delegate to her partner and how to present these with consequences) but also long term, replacing the thinking that validation comes from everything done outside the self. Letting go of the need to martyr, sacrifice and fix is essential as a first step. Realising as a codependent that you also have needs and meeting these yourself is a vital next step.
If you are a codependent dreading the work associated with the holiday season, give yourself the best possible gift….