We know from past experience that the holidays can often lead to one place—disappointment. The dread steps in long before Thanksgiving and it’s the end of January before we feel like we’ve got our wits about us. It doesn’t have to be that way this year.  I hope this series will give you encouragement and ideas about how to take the holidays back—just in time for Thanksgiving.

I sat down at the formal dining room table and closed my eyes. The memory of a Thanksgiving thirty years ago came to mind. My mother fussed and fumed as she rushed back and forth from the kitchen—each dish a bigger mess than the one before. My aunt tasted the gravy and then screamed “Good Lord there’s so much pepper in here, it nearly blew my head off.” My husband and children looked at each other. I shook my head. It was a psycho Thanksgiving to remember. Retreating within myself, I zoned out. 

My husband and kids excused themselves from the table as soon as they could. As they left to go outside for a game of touch football, I longed to join them. But if I did, my mother would act out even more. Her recent divorce, the trauma of her own past, and the sorrow that Thanksgiving brought did nothing but make her so unstable, I wondered how she could survive. I was angry and frustrated. This was not the kind of memory I wanted to give my children; Crazy Grandma, a withdrawn and depressed mother. It was wrong and I didn’t want to do it anymore. 

On the drive home, I wiped away a tear and looked over at my husband. “That was awful.”

He pursed his lips and then looked back at me. “Well, what did you expect? Your mother acted just like she always does.”

Expect? I didn’t expect anything. I simply let trauma drive the holiday while I went numb until it was over. All the old patterns were in charge. Not me.

Realistic expectations could have helped me navigate that long ago Thanksgiving much better than I did. It would have protected my husband and children as well as myself. Learning to manage expectations takes practice. And it is the first step in taking back your holiday. No longer are you at the mercy of a messed-up family system. No longer do you have to go on neutral or just survive till January. You are living in reality and it is the best of all places to be. Why? Because you can make choices that WILL actually make your holiday better. What kind of expectations am I talking about?

  • -Expect that the family system/narcissist will behave exactly as they always have
  • -Expect that your triggers will fire off at high alert
  • -Expect unresolved issues to be more difficult at the holidays, not less


  • -Accepting the truth about your family system
  • -Be prepared for triggers and try to lessen their impact by avoiding some situations and managing others
  • -Go heavy on the self-care so that unresolved issues do not have the same impact they once did
  • -Always have an escape plan (Set time or a reasonable excuse to leave)

The first way to defy trauma during the high-stress time of the holidays is to learn to manage our expectations. This holiday season is going to be different! Defy trauma, and embrace joy. 

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