How To Survive The Soul Crushing Holidays

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This is not for you if you're one of those people who thinks about the upcoming holidays with your family and considers how very lucky you are to have each other.

This is for the people who think of the holidays with their families and consider opiates.

Aahhh family.

Just thinking about stories from my practice over the years, or from the women in my study, or my friends lives, they combine to form a stark landscape. No wonder so many of us find it hard to survive in it. There's a lot of bad stuff out there behind the sheen of holiday joy and togetherness: physical, sexual and emotional abuse, cruelty, betrayal, neglect, humiliation, manipulation, undermining, withholding...

Many of us spend a good portion of our lives trying to effect the change we long for in our families, hoping that one day things will click and healthy love will be conveyed. And sometimes, it happens. But if we've gotten to the point where, despite our efforts, it feels like year after year we're pouring our hope into a colander, those are feelings we need to respect.

The loss involved in unfastening ourselves from the fantasy of the family we may never have can be intense. But it may be worth it if we look over our lives to date. Step back and evaluate.

If we've tried over time to find resolution to whatever the tension is and our family won't collaborate with us in getting there, or if our suffering consistently outweighs moments of harmony, we may want to detach either temporarily or permanently.

One of the most painful parts of feeling emotionally apart from our families is the sense of being alone in the world, especially during the holiday season when it seems like everyone else is caught up in the celebration of it all. But I can offer this assurance: you're not alone. There's a community of millions of others who feel similarly, whether they show it or choose to hide it.

If the healing we need can't come from inside our families, then it's more hopeful to put our time and energy into cultivating relationships elsewhere.

So if your fantasy of your family can't be realized, create a new one for yourself. Fantasize about the kind of people you'd love to spend holiday time with, then try to build it out and actualize it. Bring new people into your life and deepen any existing relationships you want to. Contribute to the intimacies you choose rather than the ones you were born into.

Take love where you find it, love those who earn it, and build a family of friends you'd be happy to have pass you the gravy.