How to make holiday plans with dysfunctional family.

The holidays are coming soon.  For me that always means deciding how and when I will spend time with family.  If you happen to have someone in your family that likes to wreak emotional havoc, it’s not so easy.  Do you have a family member that pushes your buttons, that feeds off of drama, or manipulates to get what they want leaving you feeling exhausted, shamed, guilty, or just plain wrecked?  

Do you decide to make alternate plans or do you decide there’s a good enough reason to engage with this person over the holidays?

Keep this in mind (because it really is the key to emotional health and expert relationship skills): You are not responsible for others’ feelings and actions; you are responsible for your own feelings and actions.

Alternate plans?

It may be that you decide to not make plans with them for the holidays.  That decision carries a lot of potential guilt.  Many parent child relationships are full of expectations and obligations under the guise of “respecting your elders”.  A relationship full of obligation is based on power and control, not love and respect.  A relationship that is truly based in love recognizes that the other person’s actions are voluntary.  You cannot force someone to love you.  If you want to have a strong relationship, it must be built on love and respect.  That means I respect your choice even if I don’t like it.  We’ve all heard the phrase, if you love them, let them go.  It’s true, once you try and control love, you begin to strangle it.

So you’ll have to ask yourself – are you making the right choice if you make other plans?  It’s really about your values and boundaries.  If you decide to go eat Chinese food with your husband and child instead of go to your mother’s smoke-filled house and endure a lecture about what a horrible person you are, I’d say you have decided that you value your health and don’t tolerate emotional abuse.  If you decide to spend the holidays with your girlfriend instead of with your family, it sounds like you value the relationship with your girlfriend more than your family.  That probably hurts.  But, guilting you into spending time with your family doesn’t actually make you value or love them any more than you already do.  It just breeds resentment and drives a wedge into the relationship.  If a parent is using guilt and manipulation to get you to show up in the way they want you to, they are using you to meet their needs and/or they are lying to themselves about the reality of your relationship with them.  A healthy parent child relationship does not rely on the child to meet their emotional needs.  

Bite the bullet?

If you’ve decided to spend some time with someone who is emotionally dysfunctional or abusive, that means there’s a big enough reason to do so and you’ll have to take responsibility for your feelings, actions, and reactions.  If that’s the case, here’s your game plan:

  • Examine your expectations & Set your intentions – What have you expected from your family in the past?  Really decide if your expectations are realistic.  Are you wanting them to be different than they are?  Accept where they are so that you can stop being triggered by their actions.  You can’t control them, you can only control you.  When you set your intentions before going into a situation, you have the upper hand, you’re prepared, you’re acting, not REACTING.  This gives you power.   What is a realistic and achievable goal?  Do you just want to not get rattled?  Do you want to keep it civil?  Do you want to spend time with family and not let that one person get in the way?  Decide what it is you want this interaction to be like. 
  • Create a plan of action – Decide what you will and won’t do.  You won’t talk about politics, or you won’t discuss your relationship with your husband, or whatever it is you decide is off limits, appropriate or inappropriate.
  • Consider the environment – The environment can make a big difference in how things play out.  If it’s a family dinner, it may be better that it’s at their house, that way you can leave when you need to.  If you’re just trying to have a short visit, you can plan to go do something together so that there’s not space for conversations to go south.  You could watch a play together, or go to a movie, or go to some other holiday themed event.  
  • Have an escape plan – Make sure no one blocks in your car.  You could have another event scheduled that puts a deadline on your visit.  You can have a friend call at a pre-determined time to give you an out if you need it.  Just don’t get yourself into a situation that you can’t get out of.
  • Enlist support – You can invite someone you know they’ll behave in front of, talk over potential problems with a friend to make sure you’ve covered all the scenarios, or just plan a dinner with your friends the next day to recharge your energy.
  • Decide how you will react when things go wrong – Just have a plan in place for what you will do when that happens.  It can be as simple as steering the conversation around potential traps.  If they are digging for some kind of drama to leverage, don’t take the bait.  Keep the conversation on neutral topics.  If they start doing that thing you decided you won’t tolerate, engage your escape plan.


Cheers to planning peaceful gatherings with family!

Finding a new perspective in chaos

When you make big changes in your life, expect chaos.

It just comes with the territory.  You have to disrupt the established patterns, move things around, dig through, upheave, tear out, throw out, sort, etc.  It looks like chaos.  It feels like chaos.  It leads to your new beautiful creation.  If you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of chaos, chances are, you are in the thick of some serious changes.  Breathe through it, keep at it, face your fears, do the work.  Change is already happening and BIG things are coming your way.

My current chaos looks like this:

Half of my kitchen is on the back porch and all of our furniture and belongings are packed into our basement so that we can get new hardwood flooring installed.  Lowe’s screwed up our order. My entire family was on antibiotics for strep throat when we left for vacation. While on vacation, we had to coordinate someone else to pick up our flooring since Lowe’s didn’t deliver it (as promised, since they forgot to order it the first time). Also while on vacation, I started having symptoms of Iritis again.  It’s some kind of auto-immune response which causes inflammation in the eye.  The last time I had this I couldn’t see clearly for six weeks. SIX WEEKS.  I had to get a new prescription called in even though I have the $78 medicine at home. Upon returning from vacation, we find our newly installed flooring is not laying flat, it has a huge bubble right in the highest trafficked area of our floor. That night my daughter wakes up sick, I pick her up to rush her to the bathroom but she throws up as I’m almost to the hall.  I slip in her throw-up landing us both on the floor.  My foot is sliced open on the stack of extra trim boards in the hallway.


Is it stressful?  Yes.  But I also can take some perspective here and see that I’m still making progress towards big things.  

  • I’m going to have new flooring in my house! 
  • I’m going to go through nearly all my belongings and purge to my heart’s content. 
  • My daughter thankfully has shown no further signs of sickness! 
  • We got to soak up some sun with good friends in Florida! 
  • I caught the Iritis early and am treating it without my vision becoming cloudy!!  
  • While on vacation, I still managed to get in a workout most days.

I’m also learning things.  

  • The airport in St. Pete Beach (PIE) has absolutely terrible food choices.  Don’t rely on food in that airport.
  • There is some kind of correlation between Florida and me developing Iritis.  I’ve actually had this three times now, all three after going to Florida.
  • Don’t expect Lowe’s to do anything they say they will do.
  • Be persistent in asking people to make it right when you’re paying them to do something.
  • There is a downside to hardwood flooring: they’re slippery when wet.

Chaos comes with the territory of creation.  So if you feel like your life is a little chaotic, just know that change is already happening and BIG things are coming your way.

comfort & joy

The holiday season can feel so full.  We have massive to do lists, parties to plan, presents to buy, expectations to live up to.  It’s an easy time to feel overwhelmed.  Feeling overwhelmed is a choice though, so to avoid it, you have to make decisions about what you want on your plate and what you will let go of.  ‘Tis the season for good boundaries.  I want to go a step further though, I want to enJOY this season.  Give yourself those tidings of comfort and joy.  There’s plenty of opportunities for both.


  • If you’re so lucky as to have a fireplace, curl up in front of it with a book (If you have one, let me know, I’m looking to borrow one).
  • Just serve hors d’oeuvres at the party.  Shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, and fruit make a delicious meal!
  • It’s okay to allow yourself to eat your favorite cookies.  You don’t have to eat the whole tin to enjoy the treat.
  • Call up an old friend.
  • Watch a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.
  • Hug as many people as you can.


  • Don’t get too hung up on judging the end result of your efforts.  Have fun decorating your Christmas tree, it doesn’t have to compete for best Christmas decor.  
  • Sing Christmas carols when the feeling hits you.
  • Buy yourself those amazing winter boots that just happen to be on sale in just your size.  
  • Go for a hike.
  • Give an unexpected gift to someone.

This is a short list really.  What brings you comfort and joy this season?



Being a realist AND having faith; choosing your beliefs when the situation is out of your control

Our current reality doesn’t always match up with what we’d like it to be. We all have dreams and desires. Some might dream of finding a partner, having kids, or landing a certain job. Then others simply face unexpected circumstances. Some people may be facing physical struggles like my personal struggle with disease. I’ve been diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease, but I don’t know how much of my vision will be lost or how quickly it might progress. At a recent retreat I helped facilitate, several people shared heartfelt experiences about their deepest desires and the fear that they may never be realized. How do we come to terms with that? There’s an art to living with uncertainty: that is to acknowledge the truth about your deepest desire, to not skirt around that truth pretending it’s not something you want with all your heart, and then also to acknowledge the reality of your current situation, to find whatever it is you can do to keep moving forward despite your fear that the outcome you dream of might not be realized. This is heart-wrenching work.

I was listening to an interview with Brene’ Brown about her new book, Daring to Lead. During her interview, she reminded me of a story I’d heard before about General Stockdale. He survived being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was held for 8 years and tortured at least 22 times during his imprisonment. *He said the optimists were the ones least likely to survive. Stockdale explained, “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” The optimists failed to confront the reality of their situation. In contrast, he claims to have survived because of his faith: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” He goes on to explain that, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–which you can never afford to lose–with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” This concept is now known as the Stockdale Paradox: holding onto the faith that you will prevail in the end and at the same time confronting your reality, understanding what is within your control and what is not. It’s akin to the oft used phrase: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” except hope is not the same thing as faith. Brene’ Brown refers to this important lesson as “gritty faith and gritty facts”.

It’s amazing to see what is born out of traumatic and painful situations; sometimes a diamond is produced from the extreme pressure. I have gone through a few cycles of dealing with painful situations, none quite as extreme as his particular one, but I recognize the mental process, the questions that arise when you feel trapped by pain. Your beliefs are tested. As I cycle through this new one, his words are ringing true. I have spent years examining the faith piece of this paradox. I’ve shed weak versions of faith that just couldn’t cut it. Faith is not simple optimism. It’s not just hoping that things will work out. I’ve also spent years contemplating the facing your reality piece of this paradox, understanding what is within your control and what is not. Finding what it is you can do in a given situation, no matter how small or insignificant it feels, and doing it. Now that I’m circling back around, I’m realizing you can’t only focus on one of these aspects, you must hold on to both. I am reminded that yes, you have to face the reality of the situation head on, but don’t lose your faith that you will ultimately prevail in the end. It’s choosing to believe that the current situation will not defeat your spirit. You choose to believe that you will come out stronger in the end.

Have faith my friend, and keep moving forward to face the challenge of today.

*General Stockdale’s quotes are from the book by James C. Collins called Good to Great.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

My current reading list is huge.

I absolutely love to read!  After a busy summer with no time to myself, I’m voraciously reading again!  I actually bought a pile of books right at the beginning of the summer, I couldn’t help myself.  Now I’m preparing for the Women’s Retreat coming up in October and I feel desperate to finish a few.  Namely, this one: 

Women who Run with the Wolves; Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clariss Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

I actually just finished it.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Seriously.  I think I need to read it 10 more times.  It will definitely be a book I refer to for years to come.  Y’all, EVERY WOMAN should read this book!  Danielle LaPorte said that about it too which is why I bought it, and I completely agree.  The subconscious understands metaphor better than anything.  This book uses stories in the ancient traditional way of giving us metaphors and symbolism to understand our spiritual journey, to connect us to our natural, our innate, our Intuitive “Wild Woman”.  

Here’s a few other books in my pile:
The Whole-Brain Child; 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
The Chalice & The Blade; Our History, our Future by Riane Eisler
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins

Yeah, there’s a lot of Brene Brown in there.  I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read her books.  I love everything she says, so it’s about time I read her books!

Do you have any incredible books you’d like to recommend?  What’s the best book you’ve read in a long time?

Coming to Terms

Okay.  I just got some really big, like life-changing news.  It’s not cancer, I’ve not been given a timeline of my death.  But the doctor said there will be lifestyle changes.  This is real.  This was about a week and a half ago.  I know I’m going to experience a lot of emotions (I already have) and there’s a whole lot I don’t know, like how quickly this will affect me.  But I do know I have to accept the reality of the situation.  I can be hopeful, wishful, positive, optimistic.  I can pray about it.  But I’m not going to pray that it will go away.  I will pray that I will find the strength I need to face this obstacle and use it as a force of change.  Learn the lessons it has to offer.

Rebuking it is a kind of denial I don’t want to waste my time on.  Denying the reality of the situation would only slow me down.  What happens if you keep praying, rebuking, denying it and it doesn’t go away?  Is it your fault?  Were you not faithful enough?  Were you not praying hard enough?  Waste. of. time.  The focus is on the wrong thing.  Accept it and get to the business of figuring out what this will mean to you.  How will I define this?  How am I going to react?  That’s all I can control, my thoughts and actions.

This is just an experience to purify, to distill.  Am I living a life of no regrets?


Dear creator,

Hear my prayer.  I humbly bow before you to plead that you ignore the judgments of others, the little voice in your head that says you’re not good enough, the criticisms of past experiences, the insecurities and what if’s.. and simply create.  It doesn’t matter what you make.  It doesn’t matter what resources you have at your disposal.  It doesn’t matter if you feel like you don’t know how to do it yet.  It doesn’t matter if it looks like shit.  JUST CREATE.  Your life depends on it.  Not the literal life of your body per se, but whatever you consider to be the core of your being- your soul, your spirit, your essence- that’s the life I’m talking about.  It’s what makes you, You.  To be a real live breathing human being is to be self aware and MAKE choices.  Every decision we make is a creation of our life, our world as we perceive it.  We are all artists/ creators and the only way to get rid of that discomfort you’re feeling, that dissatisfaction with where you are now, is to move forward.  MOVE, take a step, make a choice, create.  Don’t worry about the end result or critiquing your every step, just focus on one step at a time.  Give yourself permission to paint that picture, to write that story, to sing that song or whatever it is that your heart is yearning to do.