Episode 68: Setting Boundaries with Family around the Holidays with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Episode 68: Setting Boundaries with Family around the Holidays with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Whether you’ve gone no-contact with your family or are feeling anxious about being around family during the holidays, this week’s episode can help you figure out the best way to keep the joy alive during this holiday season.
Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa’s guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello, my friends. Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma Podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa Scolari, and I am really happy to be here again for another episode, another Tuesday, or whatever day you’re listening. It is Sunday as I am recording this. I just want to thank everyone for all of your well wishes. I’ve touched on it on some episodes in the podcast, but I’ve mostly talked about it on our Instagram, which if you’re not following, by the way, it’s Light After Trauma, that is the handle.
Alyssa Scolari [01:01]:
Head on over and check us out. We post some really great content, but I’ve been sharing a lot about my battle as I go through this process of being diagnosed with endometriosis, which has really been unpleasant and has consisted of severe, severe pain and lots of fatigue. As I’m going through this process, I’ve been keeping everyone updated on my Instagram, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for the well wishes. I had a good weekend. I had a pretty pain free weekend.
Alyssa Scolari [01:41]:
We will see what the week ahead brings, but it was nice. Today, I was actually able to go outside and do some gardening, which I’m like really impressed by because I’ve just been so tired and I just have not felt well at all lately. So fingers crossed. I have a doctor’s appointment in December where I will find out more information. We will see from there what we are going to do. But I digress. For those of you who don’t know much about endometriosis, I will be doing a podcast episode about it at some point.
Alyssa Scolari [02:18]:
Right now I’ve been doing a lot of solo episodes because, A, I really like solo episodes. I feel like I get to connect with everyone better. And B, I have had to push off a lot of my interviews because I’ve been in so much pain. Interviews that I have scheduled with other people, I have just had to cancel so many of them. I will be interviewing some more people in the near future. I am really looking forward to it, but I also really like doing these solo episodes.
Alyssa Scolari [02:49]:
And today, we are talking about something that is… It hits really close to home for me, and I know it will for a lot of people. With the holidays approaching, it can be so tough to navigate family issues because everybody’s supposed to or is expected to go home for the holidays, right? What is that like famous holiday saying, all hearts come home for the holidays, something like that. But regardless, I mean, the expectation is that the holidays are really upon us.
Alyssa Scolari [03:30]:
Halloween recently passed and now we are in full Thanksgiving mode or Christmas mode or whatever you choose to celebrate. That’s sort of the mode that we are in right now. This episode applies not just for these specific holidays, but also for holidays throughout the year in general. It’s been really hard for me, and I know I’m not alone in this.
Alyssa Scolari [03:58]:
But since things opened back up post-pandemic, like really this summer, I noticed it, everybody who had put their weddings on holds, I just had so many showers and weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties. So much that if I had said yes to absolutely everything, and so much of it was family stuff, if I had said yes to everything, I could have easily had every single day of every single weekend in my entire summer booked.
Alyssa Scolari [04:44]:
I’m sure so many of you are seeing this sort of like rise in events now that it’s not as dangerous to go out in public anymore. That was really hard for me. I feel like this episode applies for are really just all times of the year when it comes to navigating family and family events. For many trauma survivors, part of what makes something traumatic can be… You might hear that little… If you hear a little pitter pattern in the background or like a little bit of banging, it’s just one of my dogs.
Alyssa Scolari [05:27]:
Don’t worry about it. He just wanted to say hi. Bentley wanted to say hi to everybody. But anyway, part of what makes trauma traumatic, part of what causes the of trauma is the lack of support that we have when we are traumatized. And a lot of that lack of support can be found in family members, if the family members aren’t the ones doing the trauma or inflicting the trauma in the first place.
Alyssa Scolari [06:01]:
For so many trauma survivors, right, either our family members are our abusers or our family members simply turned the other cheek and did nothing to support us or believe us when we were being traumatized. As we get older, we start to feel like some type of maybe resentment or whatever the emotion may be, and we start to develop conflict with family members. And it becomes really, really tough especially the holidays. During another part of the year, perhaps it might be a little bit easier because you’re getting space.
Alyssa Scolari [06:49]:
But again, going back to this expectation that we’re all supposed to be together for the holidays, it puts a lot of pressure on trauma survivors. This holiday season for me is really monumental in my recovery because it’s the first holiday season where I’m spending it with who I want to spend it with and not with who I feel like I have to spend it with. Oftentimes, these holidays can be so stressful because of who we feel like we have to see or who we feel like we have to buy gifts for when we really don’t want to.
Alyssa Scolari [07:38]:
And if you are out there and if you are somebody who feels like you have to buy a gift for somebody who you don’t want to buy a gift for, or if you can’t afford to buy gifts, or if you feel like you have to show up to this family event knowing that these people harmed you, or that somebody there is triggering you, or that one of your abusers is there, I want to encourage you, if you feel like it’s the right time for you, I want to encourage you to start figuring out how you can set some boundaries in order to protect yourself.
Alyssa Scolari [08:20]:
There’s a couple different ways you can go about navigating family during the holidays when there’s lots of parties, lots of gatherings, lots of expectations around gift giving. One thing I recommend when it comes to gift giving is thinking ahead of time about who you would like to buy gifts for. For me, there was always this big expectation that everybody in our family got a gift. So at one point, I was buying gifts for like 10, 11 different people in my family for Christmas.
Alyssa Scolari [08:56]:
And honestly, that adds up. Hundreds, if not nearly a thousand dollars of gift giving, and then I haven’t bought anything that… And that also includes like pets for big pet people. Pet toys are expensive too. I think one Christmas like a couple years ago, I just kind of said to my mom, I was like, “Can we just not do gifts? Or do a Pollyanna or something like that?” My mom was not a fan of the idea before, during, or after, because my mom really liked the idea having like all the Christmas presents around the tree and everybody’s sitting around opening up gifts.
Alyssa Scolari [09:40]:
But financially, it is just so taxing. I also think it just adds to this mindset that the holiday is simply about what you can buy and what you can afford to buy. I would strongly recommend if you’re struggling with like, “Oh, how am I going to get gifts for people that I don’t really even want to get gifts for,” I think you should sit down and make a list. Who do you actually want to buy gifts for? And it might be uncomfortable to not buy somebody a gift when you feel obligated to.
Alyssa Scolari [10:20]:
The first year that I didn’t buy my brother a gift… I mean, granted, I’m almost 30 and he’s nine years older than me. It was time for us to stop buying each other gifts. But I knew that I had to be the one to pull the trigger because I knew that my brother wasn’t really going to say anything. I just felt like this was not a stressor that I needed. That first holiday was really uncomfortable, but I want you all to remember this, you do not owe anybody any explanations.
Alyssa Scolari [10:59]:
You truly don’t. And if you want to give an explanation, all you have to do is say, “Hey, I am respectfully requesting that we not do gifts this year.” And that in itself is a boundary that you are setting. And again, there could be several different reasons for why you’re setting this boundary. It could simply be you are in a financial bind, or it could be that you don’t feel like you want to exchange presents with this person because this person may trigger you.
Alyssa Scolari [11:31]:
You may not like this person, and it’s just not necessary. You do not need to do things for the holidays to save face. And a lot of times for trauma survivors in particular, we are such people pleasers that we end up doing a lot to save face. So it’s really important that we don’t say face. I think that I really like the technique of reaching out to that person and just saying like, “I’m respectfully asking that we don’t do gifts this year,” because then that eliminates any possibility for uncertainty, for expectation.
Alyssa Scolari [12:12]:
It’s sort of like I told you we’re not going to do this, so I’m not going to get you a gift. You’re not going to get me a gift. I will see you when I see you at the holidays. Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll talk. And that will be that. I do like that idea of communicating beforehand, and I strong really recommend it, especially when it comes to the gifts, because it can just be so stressful. And then you end up just spending all of your money on people who trigger you and it can really set you back.
Alyssa Scolari [12:49]:
I mean, it does more harm because it brings you right back to… If you are a child abuse survivor, it can bring you right back to your childhood where you are having to please your abuser or do things for your abuser. That in itself can be very triggering. I hope that that piece helps with the gifts. I know it might kind of seem like how our trauma and gift giving are related, but they absolutely are, especially when so many of us have been trained to be people pleasers and to give and give and give, even though we might not be able to give, right?
Alyssa Scolari [13:33]:
We have been trained to give even at our own expense. That is why this piece is really important. I strongly encourage you to really reflect on who is getting gifts, can I do gifts this year, and remember that you don’t owe anyone anything. I know this is all easier said than done. I promise you, because I have been there. Been there. I have done that. I am going through that as we speak, not necessarily with the gifts, but more so navigating who I want to spend time with and what I want the holidays to look like.
Alyssa Scolari [14:25]:
Let’s shift gears for a minute into that area. Now, if you are somebody who has gone no contact with your family and you don’t speak to them at all, you don’t necessarily have the issue of, am I going to see my family on the holidays? The issue you might be struggling with is, am I going to be alone? Who will I spend the days with? How am I going to deal with any potential gifts that may come in the mail from family members I’ve tried to go no contact with?
Alyssa Scolari [15:11]:
How am I going to deal with any text messages or calls from family members? Because a lot of times when we go no contact with family, family might not necessarily respect that, especially on a holiday. You might not hear from your family member in a year, but when you wake up on Christmas morning, you might have a text from a family member that you don’t want to speak to. But here you are with a text in your phone on Christmas morning because that family member’s like, “Oh, it’s the holidays and the holidays don’t count.”
Alyssa Scolari [15:49]:
If you are somebody who’s gone no contact with your family, I encourage you to take this time and to think about all the ways in which you can protect yourself when the holidays arrive. For example, what do you need to do on your phone? Are there certain people you need to block, put on do not disturb? You don’t necessarily have to block if you don’t want other people to know that they’re blocked, but you can put them on do not disturb. You can decide that you’re not going to look at your phone for the day.
Alyssa Scolari [16:30]:
You can tell people ahead of time that you won’t be taking any calls that day, or you won’t be responding to any messages that day, because I know how overwhelming it can be to have no contact with your family for a year, but then on a holiday… It’s kind of like with birthdays, right? I have certain family members who I have gone no contact with and I will not be seeing for the holidays. And more than likely, I will not be seeing them ever again.
Alyssa Scolari [17:07]:
But I’m dreading… Like my birthday is coming up on January 6th. Actually I had to think for a minute about when my birthday was. That’s pretty bad. My birthday is coming up and these people, I haven’t heard from them in a year, honestly. I know that I’ll get a text on my birthday, and I don’t want a text. I don’t want to hear from them, so I’m already thinking of ways that I can prepare myself by I’m considering perhaps blocking the phone number.
Alyssa Scolari [17:42]:
I’m considering just putting my phone down for the entire day of my birthday and just spending the day with people I want to spend it with. I might put these people on do not disturb. I’m not sure, but these are some options that I’m juggling, and I’m kind of going through in my head to decide what is going to be right for me. The same can go for you when it comes to your birthday and when it comes to the holidays. Start planning these things ahead of time, so that the day of you feel more prepared.
Alyssa Scolari [18:24]:
If you’re worried you’re going to get packages from people, then I actually strongly recommend that you go with a friend to go pick up your mail. Or if a package comes, I suggest that you have a trusted friend, a friend, a partner, whoever is safe in your life, have them help you. Now is the time to lean on other people, but people who are safe. People who can understand you.
Alyssa Scolari [19:00]:
If you’re worried about packages, don’t do this alone, because I know how triggering it can be to, again, not hear from somebody, be no contact, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, here’s a package at my door.” It ruins your entire day. It’s so upsetting. Now, if you’re somebody who has not gone no contact with your family and you plan on spending the holidays with your family, again, there are some things that you can do to prepare.
Alyssa Scolari [19:35]:
I think it’s really important that you bring people into your holiday season who are safe, whatever that may look like. If you spend Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day with your family, consider breaking it up a little bit. Who do you want to spend the holidays with this year? Do you have certain friends that are more like family members that you want to spend the holiday with? Talk to them. See what their plans are and break it up.
Alyssa Scolari [20:17]:
If you know you have to spend Christmas day with your family and you know it’s going to be triggering, have a plan in place where maybe Christmas Eve is not with your family, but is with your friends. I really, really love the saying family by choice, because that’s what I think friends are. And I am so blessed to have so many members of… Well, family members, but they’re family by choice. I have so many beautiful people in my life.
Alyssa Scolari [20:55]:
And this year for the first time I am spending one of the holidays with our family by choice and not our family. David and I both decided that together. We will see our families. We’re doing a little bit of everything, right? We are going to see our families. We’re going to see both sides of our families, because both sides of our families have family members that we want to see. I do want to see my mom on Christmas. I do want to see my mom on whatever holiday I see her.
Alyssa Scolari [21:33]:
I do want to see her, but there are other people that I have zero desire to see. People who have not reached out, have not said a word to me. I moved to a new state several months ago. I’ve been going through so much and I have not heard a peep from these people. And I have zero desire to spend it with them. And for a million other reasons, I have zero desire. It’s not just because of that. But as a result, we made the decision that we’re going to do what we want to do for the holidays.
Alyssa Scolari [22:16]:
We’re not going to do what we feel obligated to do, because what will happen is exactly what happened last year, which is we ended up going to a place where we didn’t want to go and we left at the end of the night. And before I even made it to the car, I was sobbing hysterically because of how triggered and upset I was. I don’t want to do that because this is my holiday too. Just like it’s your holiday.
Alyssa Scolari [22:52]:
Start figuring out who’s safe in your life, who you want to spend time with, and make those plans, even if you have to like spend the holidays with your family, and then you start having your own holiday, right? Some people do a… oh, what’s it called? Oh, a Friendsgiving. Some people do a Friendsgiving. Do a Friendsgiving. Do something that is going to remind you of the love you have in your life, especially if you’re having to do something that reminds you of the abuse you endured.
Alyssa Scolari [23:35]:
That is so important. Do not subject yourself to a triggering situation without first wrapping yourself up in love and support, right? You would not go bungee jumping without a bungee cord. It’s the same thing here. Do not go bungee jumping without a bungee cord. Do not spend time with triggering people unless you are going to wrap yourself in love and safety and support in other ways. I hope that that makes sense, and I hope that that helps. And also please know that you’re not alone.
Alyssa Scolari [24:14]:
Know you are absolutely not alone and know that you do not have to go to something just because it seems like the right thing to do. Again, we have multiple invitations for the holidays this year, and we have not really decided on what all of our holidays are going to look like, but we do know what some of them are going to look like. We’ve decided that it’s most important for us to wrap ourselves in safety and love and kindness and start new traditions. Because you, as the trauma survivor, are also the cycle breaker.
Alyssa Scolari [25:00]:
If your trauma is in your family, you are the cycle breaker. Break that cycle. And remember that no is a complete sentence. That is one of my favorite quotes of all time. No is a complete sentence. You are allowed to say no to people and not have to tell them why. It doesn’t mean you’re avoiding people. It doesn’t mean it’s a forever thing either, right? That’s the other important thing to point out, is that just because you’re not going to a holiday gathering this year doesn’t mean you won’t go next year.
Alyssa Scolari [25:48]:
It just means that this year it’s going to be a no for you. And that’s okay. Because when it comes to recovery, we can be up. We can be down. We can be good some years. Some years can be really rough. It can be hard to tell. So just know also that just because you don’t do something one year doesn’t mean you can never do it again.
Alyssa Scolari [26:14]:
Now, if you are somebody who feels like you can’t say no to your family and to their invitations to spend time to together, I again want to say, I can’t emphasize this enough, to make sure that you’re supported, right? If you are going to a holiday, try not to go alone. Even if you have to physically be alone, try to have friends. And I recommend this to so many of like my adolescence and like the minors that I work with, who don’t really have much of a choice on where they go for the holidays.
Alyssa Scolari [27:00]:
Try to have somebody that you can stay connected to at least on the phone. If you can’t have somebody with you in person, have somebody on Instagram, via text message, Snapchat, whatever app. Stay connected. FaceTime them. Go into the bathroom and FaceTime. Take lots of bathroom breaks. I do that all of the time. When I am overwhelmed and overstimulated or triggered, I’ll be in the bathroom. Find me in the bathroom. I’ll just be like chilling on the toilet just like taking a breather, because I need to decompress.
Alyssa Scolari [27:39]:
Go FaceTime somebody in the bathroom. Do what you need to do to stay connected to safety. Because during this time of the year, the fact of the matter is that the suicide rates increase significantly. So much of it is because we are, A, sent into a viral over how we’re going to afford Christmas gifts because this society has made it seem like all that matters is what we’re buying other people. B, we feel lonely. We don’t feel as fulfilled as these Hallmark Christmas movies make us feel like we should be, because life is not a Hallmark movie.
Alyssa Scolari [28:29]:
Life is full of triggers and trauma and trying to navigate difficult relationships and setting boundaries. You’re not going to find any of that in a Hallmark movie. You’re not going to find any of that in most Christmas movies. If you do find it, it’s like, “Well, the problem was so easy,” right? Like in these Hallmark movies, oh, you just needed to meet the love of your life and everything is perfect. Ugh, I’m rolling my eyes because I can’t. I know this is very controversial, so don’t come at me.
Alyssa Scolari [29:07]:
I know people love their Hallmark movies. I have a problem with them because I think that they send the message that you can only truly be happy and enjoy the holidays if you have found your soulmate and the love of your life. And I think that’s crap. I mean, whatever. That’s me just being really nitpicky, but I just feel like Hallmark movies are whatever. I digress. I could go on about it, but I won’t. I won’t.
Alyssa Scolari [29:43]:
For all of those reasons and many more, suicide rates are significantly increased during the holidays, which is why I am talking about this. It is important. I cannot stress it enough, start planning now if you have issues with family members. And don’t be afraid to say no. In fact, if you want to say no to a holiday, you can… One thing that is really helpful for me if I’m going to say no to anybody, because saying no to somebody is still a little bit difficult for me, I will ask my husband to sit with me on the phone.
Alyssa Scolari [30:28]:
Because if he’s next to me, I am more likely to do what I said I was going to do. If you have a hard time saying no to people and have a hard time declining an invitation, have somebody who can help hold you accountable. That’s extremely helpful. And then have somebody who also can help manage the guilt that comes after with saying no. Because just because you’re setting these boundaries doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It doesn’t mean there’s not going to be any guilt involved.
Alyssa Scolari [31:01]:
There’s going to be a lot of guilt by nature. As abuse survivors, as people pleasers, we feel guilty when we say no to people. But remember, you are not responsible for somebody else’s reaction. All you can do is what’s best for you. You are not responsible for the reactions of others. Lean on one another. Lean on the safe people in your life. Make a plan now because the holidays will be here before you know it. I want you to be able to find the magic in your own way, on your own terms.
Alyssa Scolari [31:49]:
There is so much magic to be found in this time of year, and part of that magic can be found in setting boundaries with the people who trigger us. It is not easy, but it is paving the way to a safer, happier, and healthier life. I hope that this was helpful. I will be right there with it with you. I have a really hard time saying no. It is going to feel really weird for me this year to change things up on the holidays, but I’m doing it for myself, for my family, for my future.
Alyssa Scolari [32:32]:
I am getting really comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I am leaving no stone unturned this year when it comes to saying what I want and making the most out of it, because last year we were pretty much all stuck at home because of this pandemic. I will be damned if I’m going to miss out on the joy and magic of another holiday season because I am so busy trying to please other people. I love you all take extra good care of yourselves. I am holding you in the light, and I will be back next week. Enjoy.
Alyssa Scolari [33:14]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma, and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Please head on over. Again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.