When we look outside for self-definition and self-worth, we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be victims. We are trained to be victims. We are taught to give our power away.

As just one small example of how pervasively we are trained to be victims, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, "I have to go to work tomorrow." When we say "I have to" we are making a victim statement. To say, "I have to get up, and I have to go to work," is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The Truth is "I choose to get up and I choose to go to work today, because I choose to not have the consequences of not working." To say, "I choose," is not only the Truth - it is empowering and acknowledges an act of self-Love. When we "have to" do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish, whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do - such as our family, or our boss, or society" - Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney

After I had been in recovery a few years - in the course of trying to figure out how I set myself up to be a victim with my expectations - I had a very important insight about holidays. I realized that holidays - not just Christmas and New Years Eve but Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, etc. - along with days like anniversaries and my birthday were the times which I judged myself the most. My expectations of what a holiday "should" be, of where I "should" be at a certain age, of how my life "should" look at this particular time, were causing me to unmercifully beat myself up. I was buying into the disease voice which was telling me that I was a loser and a failure (or going to the other extreme and blaming someone else for my feelings.) I was giving power to the toxic shame that told me that I was unworthy and unlovable.

I realized that I was judging myself against standards that weren't real, against expectations that were a fantasy, a fairy tale. The fairy tale that everyone should be happy and cheerful during the Christmas holidays is ridiculous just like the myth of happily-ever-after is a false belief that doesn't apply to this level of existence. The holidays are just like every other day of the year only magnified. That means there will be moments of happiness and Joy but there will also be moments of sadness and hurt. This is the time of year when the most suicides occur - because people are feeling despair that their lives aren't what they "should" be.

It is so important to take the "shoulds" and "have tos" out of our vocabulary - both externally and internally in our mental process. "Should" and "have to" come from the critical parent voice in our head that is judging us according to false criteria from a black and white / right and wrong perspective - and we learned that programming from our parents in our family of origin (as well as from teachers in school, ministers and priests in church, the media, etc., etc.).

You don't "have to" spend the Holidays with your family. If you are going to spend time with your family over the Holidays because it is what you "should" do, what you "have to" do - then you are set up to feel like a victim and feel resentment. Feeling resentful and victimized is not a good ingredient to add to the Holiday emotional mix if you want to connect with some of the Spirit of Love that the Holiday Season is supposed to represent.

As I point out often in my writing, one of the major components of empowerment is owning that we have a choice. Unless you own that you have a choice to not spend time with your family during the Holidays, then you haven't made a free choice to be there. Anytime we feel stuck in a situation, feel that we don't have a choice - to leave a marriage or a job, to do something or not do something - we have not made a choice to stay. It is impossible to consciously commit to something if we don't own that we have a choice not to do it.

So, if you spend time with your family during the Holidays because you "have to," you are not being Loving. You are not being kind, you are not giving anything, unless you are doing it by conscious choice - which involves owning that you have a choice to not do it.

The other major component of empowerment is seeing reality as it is and making the best of it - instead of being the victim of it, wishing it was different, thinking it "should" be different. This includes seeing the reality of our families clearly. The families we grew up in were dysfunctional and emotionally dishonest because society is emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional.

We grew up in families / societies where our experience of love was shaming and controlling, because that is all our codependent parents knew - due to their childhood wounding. Unless our families are in recovery from codependency then their behavior is still manipulative and shaming. They want us to be there for the Holidays to support their ego image of themselves as parents - their fantasy about having a happy family that gathers lovingly for the Holidays.

Love is a verb. Love is defined by action. If the way someone treats you does not feel Loving, then it is not healthy Love. If the way your family treats you, if the way you feel when you are with them, does not feel Loving, it is important not to deny that reality. That is one reason why the Holidays are sad for many people. It is important to see that reality and own that sadness - instead of denying and rationalizing. Denying our feelings is harmful to us. It is not healthy.

When you look at their behavior and recognize the dishonesty and dysfunction, then you can also recognize that they are doing the best they can do. You can know they are not in recovery, may never be in recovery - and that they think they are demonstrating love when they use guilt and shame to try to get you to uphold their fantasy about the Holidays.

Once you recognize the reality and own that you have a choice, then you can make a choice to spend some time with them out of kindness. You can then make a choice that is Truly Loving, that is Truly giving.

And you can set boundaries with them that are Loving for you. There are not just two choices - the black and white extremes of the disease - there are choices in between 1 and 10. You can make a choice to spend some time with them, but limit the time so that you are not subjected to the dysfunction for too long.

One of my phone counseling clients shared with me a perfect example of making this kind of choice. In the past few years she had chosen not to be with her family because it was so painful. This year she was choosing to spend some time with them, with a very distinct boundary in place. Her boundary was that they would not start drinking until the evening, and that she would leave when they started drinking. In this way, she was taking care of herself and her family by not putting up with too much of the dysfunctional behavior of her family of origin.

Love is a choice. When we "have to" we are not making a choice, and not being Truly Loving. The most Loving thing we can do for ourselves in this emotionally charged time of the year is to see reality clearly and own our choices in deciding the best way to celebrate the Holiday. We can best honor the message of Love that Christmas symbolizes by being Loving to our self. (Which of course includes not judging yourself if you have spent time with them out of belief in "have to." We need to become aware that it is okay to own our choices before we can make a choice. If this article is presenting you with a new concept, it is important not to judge yourself for your programming, for your codependency.)

Author's Bio: 

Robert Burney is a counselor, Spiritual Teacher and pioneer in the area of codependency recovery / inner child healing. His first book Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls - which has been called "one of the truly transformational works of our time." His work has been compared to John Bradshaw's "except much more spiritual" and described as "taking inner child healing to a new level" - and he has been referred to as "a metaphysical Stephen Hawking." Robert’s main site http://Joy2MeU.com/ shares over 200 pages of free original content on codependency recovery, inner child healing, relationship dynamics, alcoholism/addiction, fear of intimacy, Twelve Step Spirituality, New Age Metaphysics, emotional abuse, setting boundaries, grief process, and much more.