Am I Out of Control?

Am I Out of Control?

I recently posted an article about how to deal with a toxic family over the holidays. But what if you are contributing to the problem? Let’s take a look at how you can reframe the situation so that things stay safe and calm for everyone.

Am I Out of Control?

Few people are truly out of control. Those that I have seen are usually incarcerated or in a psychiatric hospital.

Do you keep it together at work? What about at the gym, grocery store, or other places away from family? If so, you’re not out of control. You may be choosing to lose control at home because you don’t have the same repercussions. It’s safe.

This is not the same thing as “I can’t stop myself.” If you truly could not stop yourself, you’d lack control in all situations. So the good news is, you can learn to use the same control that you exhibit in some situations and generalize it to all situations.

Everyone deserves to have a safe place. Even you. When you lose control, you are negatively impacted too. So let’s look at how to regain that control.

What Do You Really Need?

Sometimes when we blow up at people, what we really need is to feel safe. Things are too tense, so we want some space. We create it by pushing people away with ugliness. If this is what is happening, you could use the direct route and just ask for what you need. Or you can excuse yourself so that you can get that space. It’s okay to ask for what you want.

Sometimes we go for alcohol or drugs when we really just want to relax or feel more social. The alcohol helps, but then we go overboard. We end up doing or saying things we regret. If you want to relax, there are hundreds of effective techniques you can learn that will help with that that don’t have the side effect of leading to hurtful or undesirable behavior. If you want to be more social, you can learn skills that make this easier and more comfortable.

Sometimes being difficult is about needing to release the tension of being overstimulated. It’s hard for some people to deal with the stress of too much noise, too many people, expectations, and traffic that the holidays can bring. So, we meltdown. Instead of melting down, you can cope ahead and make a plan of what to do so that you can pace yourself. Take breaks and go outside. Limit the amount of time you spend at parties or with others. Have a plan for what to do afterward to decompress.

Healing begins with self-awareness. Find out what you need. If it’s something that someone else can give, ask for what you need. If this is something you need to do for yourself, follow through. Perhaps you don’t know what you need or what to do. You can get help to figure it out. Change is possible if you want it.

Limit Vulnerabilities

Coping is easier when you limit vulnerabilities. “Vulnerabilities” are anything that makes the stress worse and the chance for behaving in an undesirable way more likely. Common vulnerabilities are:

  • fatigue and a sleep routine that is not regular or long enough
  • being hungry or eating unhealthy food
  • consuming unhealthy substances like sugar, alcohol, and drugs
  • lack of exercise
  • being inside all day, sitting
  • not having a regular spiritual practice
  • harboring anger
  • loneliness

As you can see, the holidays are a perfect time for vulnerabilities to skyrocket. There are sweets everywhere. Social demands increase so we may skip exercise, meals, and sleep to accommodate others. The days are shorter and cold, so we might not get outside. This leads to resentment that we don’t express. And we can feel more alone in a crowd. This is why it’s even more important during holiday season to stick to your self-care routine.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is the best way to make your life more pleasant for you and everyone around you.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Everyone has power. Even if the problem starts with someone else, you are in control of how you respond. You don’t have to contribute to the problem. You don’t have to respond. If you have the skills, you could even do something to halt it or improve things. When you hold yourself accountable for your part, you gain a sense of contr0l over the situation. Powerlessness is crippling, so this is a great way to regain your footing again.

What About Trauma?

Maybe all this sounds like common sense, but what if it seems supremely hard because of a trauma history? That’s legitimate. Having a trauma history does make it challenging to do simple things like say, “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” It does make it harder to know what’s happening inside of you before you blow up or meltdown.

Fortunately, there has been an explosion of training in mind/body techniques in recent years that makes treatment more accessible, shorter, and more effective. Seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment could be the best thing you do for yourself. Starting now could make next year’s holidays very different.

So, whether things are out of control or you are out of control, there is a way to smooth the path forward. It starts with you. The changes that you make can make all the difference.



Surviving the Holidays With a Toxic Family

toxic family

I often talk about the importance of family ties. Family is important to one’s sense of self, connection, and happiness. Yet when our family is not healthy, navigating our lives around them is hard. Surviving the holidays with a toxic family can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to help with that.

What Do You Want?

You can start by asking yourself what you want. There are many ways to have a happy holiday. You don’t have to do it any particular way. It doesn’t have to be expensive, grand, include particular people, or anything at all. It can be whatever you want it to be. So let go of expectations and ask yourself, “What do I want?”

If what you want is to not share the holidays with your family, don’t. Do it your way. You can do it alone, at a restaurant, at a resort, with your spouse and children, with friends, or whatever tickles your fancy. You don’t have to cater to tradition, someone else’s fantasy, or other people’s expectations. It’s your holiday too. Make it a happy one.

Stand Your Ground

Share your thoughts and feelings and stand your ground. You don’t have to explain, rationalize, or justify. If you offer excuses for what you want, it invites others to offer solutions or objections. A simple declarative statement will suffice. (Examples: I’m going; I’m not going; Not this year; We have other plans; I’ll be there for an hour. I can come at this time).

Cope Ahead

What calms you? Think about those strategies and have a plan in place for before and after so that you can maintain or regain your equilibrium. Maybe this means you get a night of deep sleep, schedule a massage, or do some yoga. Maybe you plan an outing with friends, turn off your ringer, or do a hike in the woods. Having a self-care plan makes it more likely that you will follow through with it when it’s needed.

Witness But Don’t Engage

If someone is turning up the crazy, witness it but don’t engage. Sometimes people will quiet down if they can’t get a reaction. If not, well it still doesn’t have to be your problem. Remember “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

If the drama is focused on you, this is a lot harder to do. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s just directed at you. You have a choice to engage in your old roles or create a new one. Seeing through the lens of empathy, compassion, and detachment can help you step back and let whatever is directed at you flow past without touching you.

Limit Your Exposure

Even a saint has a hard time in unhealthy environments. If you choose to be in one, it may be a good idea to keep it short. It’s a lot easier to endure stress for two hours than two days. If you can duck out for a few minutes, that’s even better. Does someone need something from the store? You could volunteer. Do the kids want to play a game of football outside? You could join in. The further away from the drama, the better. Perhaps you can even avoid the whole thing this way.


Whatever is happening, accept it. Trying to change it, control it, pretend it’s something else, or complain about it only intensifies the distress. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it. It’s just a way of staying present. Staying present keeps you from being carried away.

Know Your Limits

If your family is not just dysfunctional, but truly toxic, know your limits. Sometimes it’s really better to cut ties. Family is important, but stability is even more important. You can’t have a relationship with anyone if you are crying in a corner somewhere. You can’t heal if you’re being wounded all the time. Do you, and love them from afar.

How to Beat the Holiday Blues

holiday blues

With Christmas only a week away, the holiday rush is in full swing. For some this means running around buying things that they can’t afford. It could mean packing in activities in an already over scheduled calendar. Some eat too much of the wrong things. Some drink too much. Some get overwhelmed with regret of what could have been. Some think about the losses of this year and years past. Some get caught up in the ads, movies, and happy scenes that don’t reflect their own life and feel depressed by comparison. If this is you, don’t worry. Here are some tips on how to beat the holiday blues.

Pace Yourself

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and new year is the same day every year. You know it’s coming. You know what’s expected. Rather than rushing to get it all in at the last minute, pace yourself. Shop throughout the year. Make a to do list and spread errands out over the week instead of making a day of it. Getting a little done bit by bit is productive, yet it rarely leaves you feeling stressed out.

holiday blues

Ask For Help/Accept Help

If you are the one who traditionally does something, like put up the lights or make dinner, let someone else help. You don’t have to do it all. It’s often more fun and memorable to make things a group effort.

Let Go of Perfection

Sometimes the stress is about needing for things to be perfect. I’d bet if you looked back over your childhood, what you remember isn’t perfectly wrapped packages and a color coordinated tree and house. It’s the love, right? Let the love show. Nobody will care if your house is perfectly clean, your meal looks like a magazine spread, or everyone has matching pajamas.

Let Go of “Supposed To’s”

All happiness is based on unfavorable comparisons. If you are thinking that Christmas is “supposed to” be about happy families and Currier and Ives moments, you are probably setting yourself up for misery. There are all sorts of ways to be happy. It’s nice to have picture perfect moments on film. It’s nicer to have a good time. Set a new standard by doing your holidays your way.

Maintain Your Self Care Routine

With so many parties happening, it’s tempting to over eat and drink too much. Don’t let this throw you off your routine. Your body has the same requirements all year round. If you overdo it, it can be hard to get back on track. Eating poorly can be a huge setback to your mood as well. Going without sleep can run you down quickly. Pay attention. If your body says, “Don’t do that,” don’t do it.


When Charlie Brown talks to Lucy about his Christmas blues, she says he needs involvement. She’s right. Participate. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or toy drive can cheer you up while helping others. Helping the elderly put up a tree means more than you know. Singing carols at a retirement home is another way you can share the spirit. How about decorating your home or office? If you tend to feel wiped out by the whole Christmas thing, think of the parts you enjoy and just do those.

Remember the Reason for the Season

There is a lot of commercialism around the holidays. You can’t blame manufacturers for trying to make a buck, but you don’t have to let that ruin your holiday spirit. Remember the reason for the season. Thanksgiving is not about Black Friday sales, but about gratitude. Christmas is not about what you got, but what you gave. (Love, not stuff). New years is about beginning again, not filling yourself with grief over the past. Gratitude, renewal, and giving don’t have to cost anything. Focusing on these things can help you beat the holiday blues.

Be Present With Your Feelings

Sometimes people stay busy to avoid their feelings. These suggestions are not meant to be used as an escape from your feelings. If you are feeling low, notice it. Feel it. Allow it to move through you and communicate what it needs to tell you. Maybe you need to slow down. Maybe you need to work on repairing a relationship. Maybe you need to do a better job of self care. Whatever it is, it won’t kill you to notice it. Sometimes feelings just want to be felt. You feel them and they go away. Sometimes they are there to help you get to a better place. It’s up to you do either address that issue or put it off for another time, but the more you allow yourself to feel (rather than push your feelings away), the easier it will be to tolerate emotions and reality. Remember that feelings are never the problem. They are only a symptom of the problem.

beat the holiday bluesDon’t Forget the Big Picture

When life is overwhelming, it’s often because things have gotten out of focus. We let something (the holidays, perhaps?) become larger than life while other things shrink. If you step back and look at the big picture, it can give you perspective. Whatever is troubling you, it’s just a moment in time. I promise you that in a month, year, or decade, it will not have the same importance that it does right now. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and new year are just one day out of 365. It’s only a big deal if you make it one. So step back. Take in everything in your life in this moment. See all the good, bad, and common. I bet that when you see things in perspective, this moment is actually pretty okay.

Connect to Your Spirituality

Holidays are often most enjoyable when you allow spirituality to be a part of it. Whether you are alone or with ten others, surrounded by comfort and beauty or in a hovel, your spirituality is with you always. It’s always available to you, whether others share your beliefs or connection or not. At the core of all spirituality is love. So love.

Accept That It Is What it Is

If there is some aspect of the holidays that you have no control over, accept that it is what it is. It’s not personal. It’s not the end of the world. You will get through this. That’s true whether your famous cheesecake didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to or your boyfriend just broke up with you. It’s not to make light of it. I am just saying that you can’t change it. Accepting it takes away the resistance which allows healing to begin. If you are in a place of acceptance, you can feel sad about the things that are sad while still enjoying the parts of life that are happy.

Holiday blues don’t have to happen to you. There are many things you can do to avoid them or dissolve them. The first step is awareness. Once you are aware of your feelings, you can begin to address them. If your feeling are long lasting and not easily dismissed, you could need professional help. Let me know if I can help.

Avoid the Holiday Blues

holiday blues

For some people, the holidays aren’t a time of family, happiness, cheer, and feasting.

It’s a time of depression, isolation, and headaches. If you are one of the people who have more anxiety than joy at this time of year, what can you do to avoid the holiday blues?

No Comparisons

One of the most illuminating quotes I ever heard was, “All unhappiness comes from negative comparison.” Therefore, if you don’t negatively compare yourself to other people, that should eliminate feelings of things aren’t as good as they could be. I totally agree with this, but especially at Christmas. If you are holding these ideals that everyone is having this warm, Normal Rockwell Christmas, or that everyone is going on an amazing resort holiday except you, or are holding on to some idea that things are supposed to be different than they are, you’re likely to be upset. Let it go. Enjoy the season for whatever it is.

Remember It Is the Season of Giving

With the slow economy, you may be focused on all the things you want to give, but can’t. While this is the season of giving, there is more to give than just stuff. In fact, many of the things in life that are appreciated the longest are gifts of the self. So, why not give your time, your attention, your smiles, your compliments, your love, and your sincere admiration to everyone you meet? The more you give, the more that returns to you.

Maintain a Healthy Routine

One of the things that increases the likelihood of depression is overindulgence in food, alcohol, and socializing. Our healthy routine goes by the wayside and our bodes feel it. Enjoy the holiday treats, but don’t over do it. Set limits. Continue to get plenty of rest. Eat well. Sleep well.

Be Involved

Lucy from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” had it right when she said, “You need involvement.” When you are engaged in the festivities, hanging out with friends, laughing, having fun, and doing something either useful or enjoyable, there is no room for depression. You can’t be sad when you are interested and engaged. The key thing to remember is that it’s about quality, not quantity. Doing two things when you are fully present in are much better than doing ten things where you just go through the motions.

Schedule Some Down Time

The holidays can be about go, go, go! There are lots of parties, shopping to be done, presents to be wrapped, food to be cooked and eaten, people to see, and so much more to do. While it’s fun to do all those special things, you also need some quiet time to rejuvenate. Don’t say “yes” to every opportunity. Schedule some downtime so that you are bright eyes and bushy tailed rather than drained.

Keep To a Budget

It’s tempting to go overboard with presents – especially if you show love through gifts. Set limits and stick to them. Being able to play Santa Claus can give you a short term boost, but if you are spending too much, the long term negative effect will make your holiday blues worse.


Sometimes the holidays are about remembering people who are no longer here. That can make you feel sad. If that’s contributing to your blues, allow yourself space to feel what you feel. Your sadness doesn’t go away because it’s the holiday season, but your holidays don’t have to be shrouded in gloom either. You can have space for both remembering and enjoying. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

If things get overwhelming and you find yourself isolating, sleeping a lot or not at all, eating a lot or not at all, staying in bed, not attending to your daily hygiene needs, and feeling angry, irritable, sad, or hopeless for days at a time, tell someone. You may be experiencing more than just the holiday blues.